Opinion: Ethanol is a fuel alternative that fits our domestic infrastructure

Last month, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delayed action yet again on allowing an increase in the amount of ethanol that can be blended with gasoline. Raising the ethanol blend allowance in gasoline from 10 percent to 15 percent is in the best interest of our state, our country, our economy and our environment. And, contrary to myths, higher ethanol blends will not harm vehicle engines. In fact, there has been more testing of E15 than there has been of any other fuel additive in the history of the EPA waiver process.

The State’s current energy policy calls for replacing 20 percent of petroleum-based fuel with renewable fuels, including ethanol, by 2020. Increasing the blend of ethanol in gasoline will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil and create green-collar jobs. Growth Energy, an industry coalition of which Genencor is a member, filed the Green Jobs Waiver with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to lift the arbitrary cap on the use of homegrown, low-carbon ethanol.  

Today, ethanol is America’s only domestic fuel alternative that works in our current infrastructure. Ethanol is renewable and homegrown. Contrary to other myths, the corn used to produce ethanol is not used for human food. Each year farmers produce more corn on less land. Further, each year the U.S. produces more than 1.5 billion bushels of surplus corn. With the ongoing innovative breakthroughs in farming and plant yields, we will continue to have more corn than we currently have uses for.  Over its lifecycle corn ethanol emits 50 percent less carbon than fossil fuels. Cellulosic ethanol – second-generation ethanol – fuel production from cellulosic feedstocks, such as agricultural and forestry waste, and bioenergy crops grown on marginal lands, emits 85 percent less carbon than fossil fuel. Together, corn and cellulosic ethanol, will easily be able to reach the 36 billion gallons of ethanol by 2022, as mandated in the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), part of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2007.

Moving to at least a 15 percent blend will create 136,000 new, green collar jobs, and reduce foreign oil consumption by as much as seven billion gallons. These jobs will help revitalize our rural communities, since they will remain in the U.S. and cannot be outsourced.  Increasing the blend levels from 10 to 15 percent will potentially generate more than $24 billion for the U.S. economy, according to economic studies.  

Right now federal policy mandates that 90 percent of the fuel you pump must be gasoline and federal regulation caps domestic ethanol at 10 percent of the market. Congress needs to consider what opportunities domestic ethanol provides this country. Oil is getting dirtier, costlier and riskier to extract, and federal energy policy does not seriously work to break our dependency on oil. As Congress considers clean energy legislation, it needs to make expanding the production and consumption of renewable, clean-burning, domestic ethanol a priority.

At the same time, increasing the blend of ethanol in gasoline is a step we can take right now to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 million tons per year, the equivalent of removing 10.5 million vehicles from our roads.  

For more than a quarter century, Genencor has been a leader in optimizing the technology of starch ethanol production and in developing new technologies for the production of second-generation ethanol. Support of the ethanol industry through the Green Jobs Waiver will enable the ethanol industry to meet government requirements under the RFS. In the meantime, as an industry, we continue to improve plant efficiency, reduce water and energy usage and carbon emissions. The arbitrary cap on ethanol blends is a roadblock to further investment in biofuels, our only current alternative to our transportation fuels.

The time to move to E15 is now.  The sooner we adopt sound policies for cleaner fuels, the sooner we can do our part to address several issues vital to Americans’ lives: job creation, reducing environmental impacts and decreasing dependence on foreign oil. We implore the EPA to make the right decision and support a higher blend of ethanol in our nation’s fuel supply.

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