Trump Folds on Ethanol

October/24/2017 5:41AM
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Swamp critters are big and scary and one of the biggest is the ethanol lobby. It has been chomping down politicians since 1980 and last week it devoured my guy Trump. Trump’s EPA head Scott Pruitt has been on a path to reduce the biofuels quota but last week announced he will keep the 2018 number at 19.24 billion gallons. Ethanol is a product that has zero value to anyone but the corporate farms and ethanol producers. No energy savings and more pollution than gasoline it time ended years ago but the swamp keeps it alive.

Ethanol was introduced into the marketplace during the Arab Oil Embargo. We had lines at the gas pumps, odd even license plates and insufficient supply. After that situation was alleviated ethanol continued through political lobbying. Older engines needed lighter ends in warmer weather. Hence, ethanol was the answer. Newer cars have knock sensors and that need went away, but not ethanol. Brazil had surplus ethanol production, but the lobbyists got that handled with import taxes and restrictions. Environmentalists went after ethanol, saying it was worse for the environment than gasoline. For once, the environmentalists found a stronger lobby. The corn grower’s association. A front for the ethanol producers.

Remember all the TV shows about how people could produce biofuels from all sorts of things, switch grass, algae, etc. The Republican oil man president and his oil industry VP, Bush and Chaney, were scared to death of the environmentalists. But, even more frightened by the farmers. So, they set the biofuel quotas. They based it on these exotic new biofuels from the aforementioned technology plus cellulose , etc. All yet to happen.

Meanwhile the oil industry with zero encouragement from the US government, developed fracking. This technology allowed the US to be a bigger oil and gas producer than the Saudi’s.

Ethanol is an energy loser. Adding up all  the energy that producing a gallon consumed  it did not gain energy, Planting the corn, fertilizing the corn, harvesting the corn, hauling the corn to an ethanol plant, hauling the ethanol to a fuel terminal is energy intensive. It has to be blended at the terminal it can’t be shipped by pipeline.

Farms today are corporate businesses. Corn used for ethanol raise food prices. Ethanol adds to gasoline prices. The only beneficiary of the biofuel mandate is the ethanol producer. So, why do we have ethanol? Republicans in corn states will not be elected if they don’t support the mandate. That simple. Trump campaigned in those states that he would keep it. His head of the EPA wants to cut it. Right now Trump is overruling the EPA head on this. I’m a Trump guy, but not on this. He is keeping his campaign promise not to eliminate the mandate, but he can lower it so it isn’t higher than the marketplace can absorb. So, senators Joni Ernst, Deb Fischer, and Chuck Grassley grabbed Puritt and Trump by the ass like alligators and dragged them into the swamp.

I was part of a contingent that visited a governor from Illinois years ago when the knock sensor debate was raging. We made a presentation and he said: ” Bill, I respect the scientists from Amoco, but this isn’t about science, it’s about votes and Illinois is a corn state and I will support ethanol for the votes” .  So the swamp and a few corn producing states keep the bogus product alive and in our vehicles.

This is from Exxon:

“For nearly 10 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has required refiners to blend biofuels into gasoline and diesel sold in the U.S. The EPA recently finalized rules that effectively raise the ethanol portion of gasoline above the current 10 percent level. Such rules will likely create serious problems for motorists, fuel retailers and refiners, with no benefits for the environment.

The EPA’s biofuels regulations are part of a renewable fuel standard (RFS) first legislated by Congress in 2005 and amended in 2007. The RFS was primarily intended to improve energy security based on two key assumptions: that annual U.S. fuel consumption would continue rising indefinitely and that domestic oil supplies would be insufficient to meet that rising demand.

Both assumptions are false. Gasoline demand actually decreased since lawmakers enacted the legislation, driven by the 2007 recession and reduced consumption brought about by the replacement of older, less fuel-efficient vehicles with newer ones. In addition, domestic oil and gas production is up dramatically due to technological advances. The United States is now the world’s leading energy producer.


E10 blend

Nearly all gasoline sold today in this country contains up to 10 percent corn-based ethanol. This blend, known as E10, is not harmful to vehicle engines. However, that’s not true for higher-percentage blends. Ethanol is corrosive and attracts water. Testing such as that conducted by the Coordinated Research Council has shown that damage to engine seals, hoses, fuel systems and exhaust systems can occur when ethanol content in fuel rises above 10 percent. This applies to cars, trucks, motorcycles, boat engines, lawn mowers, snowmobiles and other gasoline-fueled engines.

“The majority of vehicles on the road today are designed and warranted for fuels up to E10,” says Elisabeth Vrahopoulou, senior fuels advisor for ExxonMobil Refining and Supply Company. “It is estimated that less than 15 percent of the cars and light-duty trucks are designed and warranted for blends containing more than 10 percent ethanol. In fact, auto manufacturers have unanimously advised consumers not to use higher ethanol blends like E15 in vehicles unless the owner’s manual specifies such fuels. The use of fuels with higher than 10 percent ethanol can void vehicle warranties.”

Over the years, some manufacturers have offered “flex fuel vehicles” (FFVs) that can safely use higher ethanol blends, including E85, which contains as much as 83 percent ethanol. But ethanol has lower energy density than gasoline and yields fewer miles per gallon. The market availability of E85 is limited because any retailer offering it must install expensive storage and handling systems to keep E85 separate from other fuels. According to the Petroleum Marketers Association of America, “… FFV owners are choosing to fill up with gasoline due to its 27 percent higher energy content and superior fuel economy. Given the slim margins on retail fuel sales, retailers are forced to convert slow-moving E85 tanks back to gasoline in order to increase volume and maintain profitability. Consumer choice is the real reason E85 pumps are on the decline.”

Flawed policy

Given the trend of decreasing domestic gasoline demand, it follows that U.S. refiners won’t need more ethanol in the future to produce E10 fuels. Nevertheless, the EPA requires refiners to increase the amounts of ethanol they blend into their motor fuels each year. This not only increases the percentage of ethanol in motor fuel, but it ultimately exceeds the operational design standards of most automobiles.

While the EPA’s biofuels mandate for 2015 is about 17 billion gallons, that number more than doubles to 36 billion gallons by 2022. Non-food-based biofuels that could be used in place of higher ethanol blends – which the RFS envisioned – are available commercially, but in very limited quantities due to significant technological and economic hurdles.

In short, the RFS requires fuels that are incompatible with today’s manufacturing technologies and vehicle fleet.

“The RFS should be scrapped, or at the very least reformed,” says Ken Cohen, Exxon Mobil Corporation Public and Government Affairs vice president. “The EPA should limit its ethanol mandates to no more than 9.7 percent of total U.S. gasoline demand. That would ensure that the gasoline sold at service stations across America does not pose any threat to the tens of millions of automobile engines not warranted by car manufacturers to handle gasoline with more than 10 percent ethanol.”



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Comments (3)

  1. Doug Gordon says:

    A blast from the past for me. In actuality the entity is the “Coordinating Research Council”, not Coordinated.

    In the mid 1980’s I worked for one of the world’s largest methanol producers, and they wanted to tighten up their over supply by getting into the fuel market. I got involved in the driveabilty (sp?) arm of the CRC, attended meetings and sent my technician to participate in testing of alcohol/gasoline blend driving in hot weather, which typically involved pushing into a vapor lock situation and the unfortunate driver having to walk back to the starting shed. Hot places like Phoenix in summer.

    I am even a co-author on a paper on temperature flammable limits of methanol/gasoline blends, for low temperature ignition issues. I had some hand in the 85% methanol/15 % gasoline blend standard for methanol powered cars that EPA was pushing around that time. Otherwise you can’t start the vehicle in winter because methanol won’t form a flammable air/fuel mixture.

    Of course, none of it made any economic sense. Reagent grade methanol was way more expensive than gasoline on an energy basis, and we were tying our price to the rock bottom prices of every other carbon source.

    I did this for about two years until the politics changed and we stopped.

    • Bill Robertson says:

      I put the stickers “no mileage robbing additives” on our pumps when we used MTBE to meet requirements rather than ethanol. We were sued by the Corn Grower’s Association, which was a front for Archer-Daniels-Midland.

  2. Doug Gordon says:

    Back in my fuels research days we subscribed to “Alcohol Week” for all the news on this. I see there is still an Ethanol Week, and it’s free. Amazing!

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