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E15 Will Make No Difference Now, Part II

September 7, 2010

Wonder when the EPA and the ethanol lobby are going to wake up?  If anyone ever bothered to read the RFS mandate in Section 202 of EISA 2007, which is driving all of this ethanol blending madness, they would find out that E10 or E15 is never mentioned in the act and that EISA 2007 is NOT A MANDATORY E10 law.  The RFS only deals with bio-diesel, E85 and flex-fuel vehicles.

So why all the  folderol over getting a waiver from the EPA for E15?  Because there is a huge problem buried in Section 202 (A) 2:  APPLICABLE VOLUMES OF RENEWABLE FUEL.  It is a hard coded table.  It outlines the volume of ethanol that must be produced and blended into gasoline by year:

Applicable volume of renewable fuel

Calendar year:                                   billions of gallons
2006 …………………………………………………………………… 4.0
2007 …………………………………………………………………… 4.7
2008 …………………………………………………………………… 9.0
2009 …………………………………………………………………… 11.1
2010 …………………………………………………………………… 12.95
2011 …………………………………………………………………… 13.95
2012 …………………………………………………………………… 15.2
2013 …………………………………………………………………… 16.55
2014 …………………………………………………………………… 18.15
2015 …………………………………………………………………… 20.5
2016 …………………………………………………………………… 22.25
2017 …………………………………………………………………… 24.0
2018 …………………………………………………………………… 26.0
2019 …………………………………………………………………… 28.0
2020 …………………………………………………………………… 30.0
2021 …………………………………………………………………… 33.0
2022 …………………………………………………………………… 36.0

Now keep in mind that the U.S. uses about 135-140 billion gallons of gasoline / year.  It has been in that range since the economic collapse started in 2008 and won’t likely rise in the foreseeable future unless the economy improves markedly.  If every drop of gasoline was E10, it would take, at most, 14 billion gallons of ethanol and the apparent advantage is that the refineries would only have to produce 126 billion gallons of gasoline so it appears we would use less oil, although nobody knows if that is actually true, since no one has done a large, statistically significant study of mileage before and after E10 is widely implemented.

Look at the table.  During 2012 the U.S. ethanol industry must produce more ethanol than can be put into all of the auto gasoline.  Clearly, after 2012 we are going to have ethanol coming out of our ears.  Are you beginning to understand why the RFS portion of EISA was clearly written for E85 and why the unintended consequences of the act are getting ugly?

So 2012 is the “Blending Wall” and in order for the ethanol industry to “delay” the blending wall while they try to get more taxpayer money out of Congress and state governments (which are going bankrupt, so not too likely) to add E85 infrastructure and get laws passed to force the auto industry to build more dinosaur “flex-fuel” vehicles, they figure the easiest way to delay the blending wall is to get the EPA to force gasoline companies to make E15 and force you to use it in your non flex-fuel vehicle.  And how long might that delay the blending wall?  Well, we would need 21 billion gallons of ethanol to take all of the gasoline E15, so the delay would be out to about 2016, maybe a four year delay, max.  But then we would still be at a blending wall.  Unless the U.S. starts making “Renewable Fuel”, which is E85, we are going to face a blending wall.

But it turns out there are a lot of niggling little details that need attention in order to actually implement the E15 waiver, if it is even granted.  The simple problems involve the EPA’s own set of rules about how they can go about raising the ethanol blending limit for non flex-fuel vehicles and they mainly involve a whole lot of testing.  That testing is beginning to indicate that E15 might be allowable in a range of cars, say 2007 and newer, perhaps 2001 and newer, but the testing won’t be finished for at least another couple of months, maybe more.  So the earliest that the EPA could grant some kind of waiver is looking like the end of 2010, leaving only two years until hitting the wall.

Now comes the real Gordian knot.  According to the API (American Petroleum Institute), the “evil foe” of the ethanol lobby, there are a few more hoops to jump through before you can actually foist E15 on an unsuspecting public.  They are outlined in this report.  The gist of the report is that it is going to take time, in some cases a long time, to implement E15, to say nothing of whether service stations are going to want to handle a new product with unknown liability, other than it will increase property damage.

I think the most ironic problem is that ethanol blending caps are built into a lot of state laws, as outlined in Appendix A of the report.  I live in Oregon, a mandatory E10 state.  The mandatory E10 law, passed in 2007 before the federal law passed, has infuriated a lot of our citizens.  But we are lucky in a way because embedded in that law is a 10% ethanol cap, so it is going to take a legislative change to remove the 10% limit, and this time we are prepared to fight, especially when you consider that the federal RFS mandate is supposed to be for “Renewable Fuel” which is E85.

In the final analysis though, we will be at the blending wall before E15 ever reaches the market, as I have predicted in past blogs.  It will be interesting to see the reaction of citizens when they can’t find ethanol free fuel anymore and the property damage increases and the economic impact to the aviation, marine and public safety industry spreads through an already fragile economy.

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