Connecting the Dots

Source: By David VanderGriend, Ethanol Producer Magazine • Posted: Friday, May 13, 2016

As you read this, many of you are preparing to head to Milwaukee for the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop. As always, I look forward to seeing many old friends and colleagues from this industry that we’ve all worked so hard to build.

I’m pleased to be involved with efforts to ensure a solid and growing market for our product by understanding how ethanol fits into the world of refiners, automakers, retailers and, ultimately, the consumer. In forming the Urban Air Initiative, we were determined to prove that we can achieve cleaner air through higher blends of ethanol. We’ve learned that we can reduce harmful emissions by replacing toxic compounds in gasoline with clean burning ethanol, which improves air quality and protects public health. We can do so while providing a high-octane fuel for superior engine performance, which increases gas mileage and further reduces emissions.

Sounds like a simple path to higher ethanol usage, right? Unfortunately, we also uncovered many little known regulatory roadblocks the U.S. EPA has in place to keep ethanol from a free market. But the good news is that the opportunity is there and a number of public policy objectives, and the programs that govern them, are on a collision course with each other. I think ethanol is just the solution.

A panel at the FEW is focusing on many issues important to the Urban Air Initiative. I hope you can attend the 1:30 p.m. panel on Tuesday, June 21, titled “Growing Beyond the RFS: Creating New Demand for Ethanol by Meeting Health, Fuel Economy, GHG, and Performance Standards.” It should connect the dots between several key issues and show how ethanol can help meet the needs of what might seem to be a contrasting collection of stakeholders.

The first issue: We have a significant health threat with air toxins. Refiners synthesize the most harmful compounds of petroleum as their source of octane. These are known carcinogens that fall under the category of aromatics. Congress gave EPA the authority to reduce these aromatics as technologies became available. If we could cap or reduce aromatics, midlevel ethanol blends, such as an E30, would provide significant health benefits.

Meanwhile, the auto industry has made it clear that it’s going to be severely challenged to meet future efficiency and greenhouse gas standards. Cars can reduce carbon emissions and improve mileage but the industry will need to design cars requiring high-octane fuels and, with carbon and aromatic caps, the octane should not come from the oil barrel. Again, ethanol can be the answer. High octane with low carbon, a dream date.

We also may find ourselves working more closely with the refining and petroleum industries than we ever thought. California, Oregon and Washington are setting the stage for what could be a nationwide adoption of low-carbon standards. Refiners need to be able to sell their gasoline in these states and ethanol reduces the carbon intensity of their fuels. They may actually help us remove some of the regulatory roadblocks to getting higher blends into the market.

The FEW panel will be a moderated discussion featuring experts in the health, auto and regulatory fields. It will simplify the complex connections between health benefits, mileage and emission requirements, and include a key former government regulator to help explain a pathway to actually get these fuels into the market. The panel includes an ethanol producer who is working hard in his own community to encourage higher blends and increase the demand for ethanol.

At Urban Air, we know it will take multiple pressure points to ultimately allow the consumer the choice of ethanol at the pump, which, in turn, will grow demand beyond the fictitious blend wall. This will need to be achieved through top-down, bottom-up, and tactics from all directions in between. Ethanol from corn can play a major role in meeting carbon and greenhouse gas reductions while helping our friends in the auto industry and, most importantly, protecting public health.

I wish you safe travels and hope to see you at the FEW panel on June 21 in Milwaukee.

By David VanderGriend, Urban Air Initiative, ICM