Big ethanol takes a loss

A molecular look at ethanol. Photo: Some rights reserved,

A molecular look at ethanol. Photo: Steve, Creative Commons, some rights reserved,

Catching up on this news that broke on Friday. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed lowering the amount of ethanol it requires to be blended in gasoline for the first time since the program started. According to the AP:

EPA officials said they were still committed to alternative fuels as part of a comprehensive energy strategy. If the EPA stuck to the volumes mandated by law, the amount of biofuel required would generate more ethanol than many engines can safely handle, officials said.

"Biofuels are a key part of the Obama administration's 'all of the above' energy strategy, helping to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, cut carbon pollution and create jobs," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

Of course, the biofuels industry is less than satisfied. Anne Steckel of the National Biofuels Board says the reduction sends a bad signal to those willing to invest in research to find cleaner fuels:

“This proposal, if it becomes final, would create a shrinking market, eliminate thousands of jobs and likely cause biodiesel plants to close across the country,” Steckel said “It also sends a terrible signal to investors and entrepreneurs that jeopardizes the future development of biodiesel and other Advanced Biofuels in the United States.”

One under-reported aspect of the biofuels story was pointed out to me by alert reader and journalist, Mary Thill (@Mary_Thill). Ethanol in gasoline has been gumming up small motors – a big deal in rural communities that use a ton of chainsaws, boat motors, and snowmobiles. As Mary wrote a couple years ago in Adirondack Life magazine:

“It’s almost a daily ritual for me now, cleaning carburetors,” says David Whitty, who owns a small-engine sales and service shop just outside of Schroon Lake. An alcohol, ethanol absorbs moisture from the air. The 10-percent blend doesn’t cause much damage to large fuel-injection engines, like those in cars. But as small motors sit idle between uses, the water gradually separates from the gas. “You can’t burn it. It will settle right in the bottom of the carburetor or right in the bottom of the tanks and all of the sudden they just won’t run,” says Skip Emmons, owner of Ampersand Garden Boat Shop, in Saranac Lake.

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  1. Good!
    I would rather eat corn than put it in my gas tank.

  2. The ethanol mandate has taken millions of tons of corn out of the food chain, driving up beef prices and farm land. Ethanol-free gas gets about ten per cent better mileage, in my cars at least. But to be clear – this is not an "Obama" program; it flows from legislation enacted before he was elected.

  3. Maybe I could keep my tiller& mower& weed whacked& power washer running for awhile!

  4. Making corn into fuel was never a good idea. Even back in 1980 when I studied US energy use patterns, I discovered that if every arable acre in the country was converted to bio fuel production it would only supply 30% of the natural gas needs. Conservation should be our first priority, then alternative production methods. If we continue to allow petrochemical companies to control our political decisions we run the risk of seeing our children starve.