USDA, DOE plan promotes midlevel ethanol blends

By Ryan C. Christiansen | October 06, 2008
Web exclusive posted Oct. 9, 2008 at 2:02 p.m. CST

A new National Biofuels Action Plan released by the USDA and U.S. DOE on Oct. 7 includes a statement from the agencies regarding intermediate ethanol blends. The agencies reiterated their commitment to reducing petroleum-based gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent over the next 10 years and said the national fuel infrastructure must continue to grow in both production and retail delivery of ethanol. The agencies will work with state and local governments to ensure full national penetration of E10. In addition, the agencies said midlevel blends of ethanol must also be promoted.

"Federal fuel registration and national market access for intermediate ethanol blends of gasoline represent a critical pathway to meet the Twenty-in-Ten goal" the statement said. The DOE is testing the potential impact of higher blends such as E15 and E20. The study began in August 2007 with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The DOE released first round results Oct. 7.

Preliminary test results using E15 and E20 in 13 vehicles and 28 small nonroad engines, including lawn equipment and generators, showed that most of the regulated emissions with E15 and E20 were within the normal test variation, and no statistically significant change was detected. Tailpipe emissions were similar and, under normal conditions, catalyst temperatures were largely unchanged in the 13 test vehicles. However, under full throttle, about half of the cars exhibited slightly increased catalyst temperatures with E15 and E20, compared to traditional gasoline. Engine and exhaust temperatures increased in the small engines, as well. However, the engines displayed no particular sensitivity to ethanol from a durability perspective.

The National Biofuels Action Plan action items are for the Biomass Research and Development Board, which is cochaired by the USDA and DOE and includes senior officials from multiple federal agencies. The National Biofuels Action Plan will guide the board's actions in helping to accelerate the development of a sustainable biofuels industry in the United States. The action items also include the goal of defining sustainability criteria for the production of ethanol by November, analyzing the availability and cost of feedstocks related to production targets, developing and deploying logistics systems for supplying feedstocks to planned cellulosic ethanol demonstration facilities, and studying the feasibility of using pipelines for transporting ethanol.