EPA Sounds a Retreat on Ethanol

By Christina Birchfield | 11/21/2013

For the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency is recommending lowering ethanol level blending volumes in gasoline by about 8 percent.


On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed reducing blending volumes under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard from 15.21 billion gallons in 2014, down from 16.55 billion gallons in 2013.

The Hill reported that the EPA’s “proposal drew a rebuke from the biofuels industry.”

“By re-writing the statute and re-defining the conditions upon which a waiver from the RFS can be granted, EPA is proposing to place the nation’s renewable energy policy in the hands of the oil companies,” said Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, a major ethanol industry trade group.”

Ethanol itself is not without controversy. Corn ethanol production has been blamed for soil erosion, water pollution and a rise in prices for the corn people eat.

“The corn ethanol being produced today is worse for our climate than gasoline,” Jonathan Lewis of the Clean Air Task Force said in a television news feature broadcast on Cedar Rapids, Iowa CBS News station KGAN.

It’s not just the EPA. Part of the furor over ethanol comes from an Associated Press investigation that found that farmers rushing to plant corn for ethanol production, plowed up 5 million acres of grassland conservation lands and destroyed habitat.

And if that were not enough, the urge to increase ethanol levels in gasoline has led to warnings that higher ethanol levels in gasoline cause engine damage. Prius vehicle manuals, for example, warn against the use of higher than normal ethanol fuels. Such use can easily void the car warranty.

An article in Popular Mechanics explains how vehicle engine damage can occur. One problem the article describes is water or rather phase separation.
As Popular Mechanics explains, “When the H2O in the gas gets above a critical percentage—or its saturation point—all of the water and alcohol drops out and settles in the bottom of the tank. This is what chemists call phase separation.”

The other factor is that alcohol is a corrosive that can degrade plastic, rubber and metal parts, especially in older vehicles and equipment designed before such fuels became commonplace.

Because of the water and corrosive issues and “a tenacious brown glop” that Popular Mechanics says forms in just a month, the magazine recommends ditching the 5 gallon fuel can for a two gallon one for refilling those lawn and garden fuel tanks. It also becomes ever more important to follow product manufacturers directions regarding fuel to make sure products stay clean and have a useful long life, as much a factor in environmental sustainability as anything else.

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