Local View: Ethanol around the world

Source: By Jan tenBensel, Lincoln Journal Star • Posted: Wednesday, December 21, 2022

I was honored to represent the Nebraska Ethanol Board on a trade mission to Tokyo in late November, alongside Gov. Pete Ricketts and several other Nebraska agriculture delegates, to discuss how Nebraska can help meet these goals.

As the world’s leading nations work to reduce their carbon footprint, Nebraska ethanol has a remarkable history of offering solutions. The state’s one-of-a-kind ethanol agency helped improve the health of America’s fuel with its 2-million-mile road test in 1974, which showed a 10% blend of ethanol to be superior to gasoline in performance and showcased its ability to be used in many engines.

As Americans became more aware of the danger in using lead and harmful compounds such as MTBE to boost octane, a 10% blend of ethanol was mixed into the country’s fuel, per the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Clean Air Act. Today, over 98% of gasoline in America contains at least 10% ethanol.

Japan’s fuel supply may contain up to a 3% blend of bioethanol in the form of ETBE. If the country increased to a 10% direct ethanol blend, Japan would reduce CO2 emissions from transportation by five times. Additionally, Japanese leaders will be able to maintain stable gas prices and energy security by reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels. The U.S. would see an additional $1.7 billion.

Higher blends — E15, E30, and E85 — are also available in the U.S. fuel market and endorsed by the EPA to further reduce emissions. A 15% blend of ethanol is safe and approved to use in vehicles model year 2001 and newer, representing over 96% of vehicles on the road today.

Flex-fuel vehicles are specifically designed to use the highest blends of ethanol, but this could all be changing. The state of Nebraska has been demonstrating the use of E30 in non-flex-fuel vehicles since June 2019.

In 2021, the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln released analysis of the E30 demonstration data, clearly showing that a blend of 70% gasoline and 30% ethanol is safe and efficient to use in non-FFVs.

This peer-reviewed research was the first scientific demonstration of its kind. A second phase has been approved by the EPA, which will further demonstrate the safety and reliability of E30 while quantifying its environmental and economic impacts.

Making E30 more widely available will help Nebraska continue to reduce its carbon footprint and displace toxic petroleum-based gasoline components while staying competitive among transportation innovations.

Nebraska is also among a handful of Midwestern states that have the opportunity, geologically, to implement Carbon Capture and Sequestration, which more than doubles ethanol’s carbon reduction potential. CCS unlocks the capability for Nebraska to offer the only net-zero emissions liquid fuel that can power planes, trains and automobiles around the globe.

Already the No. 2 producer of ethanol in the country, Nebraska has been preparing for the carbon revolution that is to come. Farmers in Nebraska continuously incorporate sustainability measures, and ethanol producers are increasingly more efficient with their resources, while looking for ways to expand production to meet the growing need for biofuels.

The greatest demand for bioethanol in Japan will come in the form of sustainable aviation fuel, which replaces petroleum-based kerosene in jet fuel with environmentally-friendly jet fuel produced using American ethanol. The Japanese government aims to have airlines replace 10% of their jet fuel with eco-friendlier alternatives by 2030.

During our visit, we saw the importance of Nebraska-made products to the Japanese, including popcorn at the movie theaters, the meals served and even packages of Nebraska beef ready to be purchased by hungry consumers at grocery stores.

As the fifth-largest U.S. trade partner, Japan’s top agriculture imports from the U.S. include corn, beef, pork and soybeans. We are excited about the prospect of adding bioethanol to that list through the changes our industry helps to revolutionize. We hope Japan, and other nations, will look to bioethanol as a vital part of a well-rounded energy portfolio.

As a multigenerational farmer in Cambridge, I found it inspiring to see how other countries’ needs can be met through the work I’ve dedicated my life to. I’ve always been honored to help feed and fuel Nebraskans, and I’m even more proud having seen firsthand how our work to provide is appreciated and depended upon around the world.

Jan tenBensel of Cambridge is Nebraska Ethanol Board chairman and a farmer.