Ethanol’s Octane Provides Proactive Opportunity

By Brian Jennings | January 11, 2012

  Over the past 25 years, the American Coalition for Ethanol has recognized the need to be nimble and adapt tactics in pursuit of our mission to make American ethanol the consumer fuel of choice.

In 1987, our initial emphasis was to educate legislators in a few core states and sponsor ethanol-fueled dirt track races to familiarize mechanics and gas station owners with ethanol’s high-octane performance. Those efforts soon expanded to provide desperately needed policy leadership at the federal level and to educate petroleum marketers nationwide about the benefits and blending economics of ethanol. Indeed, ACE took the initiative to be the first group to support enactment of a renewable fuels standard (RFS) in Congress and to sponsor studies on midlevel ethanol blends such as E30 which led to blender pump promotion.

In 2012, much of our focus will pivot to states to help ensure the remaining hurdles to E15 use are cleared. This will involve working with other groups to change laws and regulations at the state level and proactively promoting the benefits of E15 for consumers and petroleum marketers. We can and will apply the lessons we learned from the expansion of E10 use in the states to help make the transition to E15.

Congressional gridlock prevented the enactment of ethanol legislation last year, but that doesn’t mean federal energy policy stood still. To the contrary, President Obama rode herd over two landmark energy policy changes in 2011, rules controlling emissions from coal-fired power plants and proposed aggressive new fuel economy standards (corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE rules) for automobiles.

Given the ongoing partisan bickering and legislative logjam in Congress, which will likely worsen in this presidential election year, ACE will play an active role in the CAFE and other key federal rulemakings in 2012.

The new CAFE standards apply to light-duty vehicles beginning in model year 2017, requiring a nationwide average of 54.5 miles per gallon by model year 2025. While the automakers agreed to this overall fuel savings goal in negotiations with the Obama administration, it will nevertheless be very challenging for them to meet. In fact, unless refiners are compelled to clean up their fuel in tandem with new CAFE rules, automakers, at no fault of their own, will be unable to meet the new fuel economy standards and keep the air we breathe clean and safe. The reason is aromatics, which are classified as hazardous air pollutants.

This is where ethanol enters the picture, as the cleanest and most affordable form of octane on the planet. A coalition of public health and consumer groups that care about the environment and ACE will make the case in rulemakings this year that if ethanol’s clean octane is allowed to replace the toxic, expensive, and energy-inefficient aromatics (benzene, toluene, xylene) that refiners use to add octane to fuel, the resulting benefits will be substantial—reduced oil use, cleaner and safer air, and more demand for American-made ethanol. 

Replacing benzene, toluene and xylene in transportation fuel with ethanol’s clean octane would be analogous to getting the lead out of gasoline and would set up the predicate for how we can someday fulfill a goal many in the industry have for widespread use of E30 or similar midlevel blends.

That is not to say we’re ignoring Capitol Hill. Indeed, as we’ve indicated numerous times already, ACE and other groups will work together to protect the RFS in 2012 and address other legislative priorities.

In that spirit, I’ll close this month by encouraging everyone to participate in ACE’s upcoming grassroots fly-in to Washington, D.C., scheduled for March 27-28. I hope to see you in D.C. next month.

Author: Brian Jennings
Executive Vice President,
American Coalition for Ethanol
(605) 334-3381