Growing Beyond the RFS: Creating New Demand for Ethanol by Meeting Health, Fuel Economy, GHG, and Performance Standards

by Dave Vander Griend, President of Urban Air Initiative

As you read this, many of you are preparing to head to Milwaukee for the FEW. As always, I look forward to seeing so 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. And, 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 unknown regulatory roadblocks the 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. And I think ethanol is just the solution.

The Urban Air Initiative is hosting a panel at the FEW, on June 21st at 1:30. I hope you can attend because we will 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.

First of all, we have a significant health threat with air toxics. 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, mid-level ethanol blends, like 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. Autos can reduce ghg (carbon) and improve mileage but will need to design cars requiring high octane fuels. 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.

Our panel will be a moderated discussion which features 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. We will round the panel off with an ethanol producer who is working hard in his own community to encourage higher blends and increase the demand for ethanol. Hear how you can duplicate their program in your town.

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 RFS blendwall. 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 ghg 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 our panel on June 21st in Milwaukee.