Feds Will Fund E85 Pumps In Energy Security DriveBy Danny King April 12, 2011
Ethanol backers are getting a big boost from a U.S. Agriculture Department plan to help fund a fivefold expansion of the number of gas stations with fuel pumps offering higher ethanol blends, as the federal government looks to cut domestic dependency on foreign oil by encouraging use of biofuels in light-duty vehicles. The Obama Administration is looking to add 10,000 so-called blender pumps over the next five years to the inventory of about 2,350 pumps that can distribute E85 a fuel mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. There are as many as 8.5 million so-called flex-fuel vehicles that can run on E85 on the road today, about 3.5 percent of the approximately 250 million light-duty vehicles in the country.
Most gasoline currently is sold with 10 percent ethanol content the corn-based alcohol fuel added as an oxygenator to help improve combustion. If the blender pump plan is fully realized, the more than 10,000 E-85 pumps would equip about 7 percent of the total U.S. gas stations, figuring 1 blender pump per station. About 2,350 stations mainly in the Mid West presently have E85 pumps. USDAs energy programs are helping to build a clean energy economy, while creating green jobs here at home and making our nation more energy secure in the long-term, said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement.
Such a push for more ethanol use is likely to further the debate over biofuels benefits. Many environmentalists, academic researchers, economists and other skeptics have questioned using corn as a fuel feedstock, citing a mid-decade spike in corn prices that exacerbated worldwide shortages of many grain-based foods.
Additionally, from an environmental viewpoint, a jump in corn production requires more water and electricity and waterway-contaminating fertilizer, while the potential conversion of CO2-absorbing natural forests into additional cropland may also cause problems. Some of these issues may be mitigated, however, if the industry starts making second-generation ethanol from waste material and algae instead of corn.
The environment isnt the only issue, though. The Association of International Automobile Manufacturers (AIAM) and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) late last year in an attempt to block a ruling that E15 - a blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline - can be used in light-duty vehicles made starting in the 2007 model year. The coalition said the ruling violated the Clean Air Act and added that E15 may cause engine failures because the higher alcohol content may damage metal, plastic and rubber parts.
Biofuels advocates applauded the new blender pump goals set out by the Obama Administration. Ethanol, whether E10 or mid-levels blends and E85 for flex-fuel vehicles, helps lower the cost of a gallon of gasoline, reduces this nations dependence upon foreign oil, and supports American jobs with an American-made product, said Bob Dinneen, CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).
So-called blender pumps dispense custom mixes of gasoline and ethanol in blends ranging from 10 percent to 85 percent ethanol, as each customer demands. They cost about $27,000 each, according to an RFA report released in March. The Agriculture Department would fund the pump purchases through the Rural Energy for America Program. Blender pumps would be needed in about a third of the countrys gas stations in order to meet the 2022 renewable fuels goal set by the Department of Energy, according to the RFAs March study.