For the first time in the history of its program to promote biofuel as a replacement for petroleum-based fuels, the U.S. government proposed Friday to reduce the amount of ethanol that is required to be added to the nation’s gasoline supply.

The move by the world’s No. 1 producer and consumer of biofuel reflects profound changes underway in U.S. driving habits and vehicle fuel efficiency, as well as concerns that the nation’s tightly intertwined food and fuel systems are maxing out on their ability to burn more corn-based alcohol for transportation. Americans are driving less and cars on the highways are more efficient than Congress anticipated when it created the renewable fuels mandate in 2005. (Take a quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Biofuel.”)

Nearly all the gasoline sold in the United States is now “E10,” gasoline mixed with up to 10 percent ethanol. The majority of the cars on the U.S. market are not designed to run on large amounts of ethanol (even though the technology for “flex-fuel vehicles” is simple and inexpensive.)

Biofuels at a Crossroads
Learn more about the issues surrounding biofuels.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved 15 percent ethanol blends for cars manufactured after 2001, but that hasn’t been a solution to the so-called “blend wall” problem, since few filling stations carry the higher blend and worries about the potential for “misfueling” errors abound. In its new proposal, the EPA said it is seeking input on what steps it can take “to help overcome current market challenges” and minimize the need to reduce the ethanol mandate further in the future. But for now, the agency is proposing to set the 2014 requirement at 15 billion to 15.52 billion gallons, close to what the mandate was last year. That marks about a 6 percent reduction from this year’s mandate, and is about 15 percent below what the mandate had been scheduled to reach by 2014. (See related story: “Drought Withers U.S. Corn Crop, Heats Debate on Ethanol.”

The EPA attempted to craft a compromise amid ferocious lobbying over the so-called Renewable Fuels Standard, an onslaught that is not likely to abate. The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, representing oil refiners, said EPA’s recognition of the blend wall problem was a “welcome step,” but signaled it would continue to urge Congress to undo the “unworkable law.” A leading group for ethanol producers, the Renewable Fuels Association, said that the costs that the program was imposing on refiners was a sign that the program was having an impact in unseating oil’s monopoly on transportation: “Now is not the time to depressurize the program,” the group said. (See related blog post: “Why the New Biofuel Feedstocks Deserve Investment, Incentives.”)

Meanwhile, even though the EPA made last-minute changes to the proposal to reduce the potential cuts to “advanced” biofuels–those not made from corn–the Biotechnology Industry Organization said the proposed ethanol reductions “could significantly chill investments in advanced biofuels projects,” and the group said it would work for further changes to the plan. (Vote and comment: “Are Biofuels Worth the Investment?“)

More stories about biofuels:

Panda Poop May Help Turn Plants Into Fuel

Beyond Ethanol: Drop-In Biofuels Squeeze Gasoline From Plants

Whisky a Go Go: Can Scotland’s Distillery Waste Boost Biofuels?

Comments

  1. awizard
    Pa.
    November 24, 2013, 8:53 pm

    Well it’s about time “they” at least reduced the diluting of our gas … I’m tired of having to go to the airport or marina to get ‘real gasoline’, or having to remove the ethanol manually, it’s time consuming … and the whole thing is just more expensive …

    Yaa!.. now work on taking it “all” out … better, don’t put it in …

  2. Concerned citizen
    NY, USA
    November 20, 2013, 3:55 pm

    Please stop the fracking movement. Our water is too precious and is the most basic requirement (along with clean air) for organic life to thrive. Fracking can too easily go awry and spoil our water resources. If that happens, chaos and expoding water purification costs will make water unaffordable to the masses! Think before you drill.

  3. Kabir Zaidi
    India
    November 19, 2013, 5:04 pm

    In 2006 the Bush administration had advocated massive sowing of corn as it was widely believed that ethanol (mixed with petrol) would help in tackling climate change.. In fact, the farmers were given extra subsidies for switching over from wheat. This practice was carried by many other countries as well, which led to a massive shortfall in global wheat production. All this triggered a steep global inflation in wheat and other commodities (and it has not cooled down since)
    Production of corn in moderation is OK. This is a great move by the US government which would help in curbing inflation and pave the way for newer technologies as well. Shale oil/gas is one of them and by 2015 US is poised to be a major player in shale gas production.

  4. jj
    November 19, 2013, 3:18 pm

    Ethanol is just welfare for farm conglomerates, it has nothing to do with the environment. Just another re-election scam for politicians paid for by tax payers..

  5. SGTRock
    Missouri
    November 18, 2013, 9:26 pm

    This is a very good thing, ethanol is not only bad for engines, especially small engins in lawn mowers, ATV and such, it is counter productive by increasing water usage, farm expansion and clear cutting of forest. This is a smart environmental move.