DOE Labs Report Touts Role of Mid-Level Ethanol Blends in Fighting Climate Change

A recent report released by three of the DOE national laboratories citing numerous benefits of using high-octane, mid-level ethanol blends in future engines is a welcome development for biofuel advocates and those of us in pursuit of the 25x’25 Vision.

The analysis issued last month by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory – “Summary of High Octane, Mid-Level Ethanol Blends Study” – cites increased vehicle efficiency, increased acceleration and significant reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions among the demonstrated benefits of mid-level blend fuels, such as E25 and E40.

With the report coming from the nation’s leading biofuel research facilities, it reinforces the fact that more ethanol in gasoline can save consumers money and reduce the emissions from the transportation sector, which represents about 26 percent of the country’s total GHG emissions.

The timing of the report is fortuitous, given that EPA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) are currently undertaking their mid-term analysis of proposed fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and light trucks. It is hoped that these agencies will give serious consideration to the multi-lab report that shows high-octane, mid-level ethanol blends will significantly contribute to meeting future GHG and fuel economy standards.

As we have often pointed out in this space, if the Obama administration wants to maximize its efforts to combat climate change, biofuels that can reduce the amount of carbon that vehicles emit into the atmosphere must be fully supported through low-hanging fruit solutions like recognition in the federal fuel economy standards and a fully realized Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

The report bolsters the argument of advocates who want to see biofuel blending requirements under the RFS returned to levels established when the program was expanded and reauthorized in 2007 by the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA). It is critical that government support for biofuel development be optimized through policy mechanisms like the RFS, which, when fully sustained, can generate necessary investment in research that will create biofuels that are even lower in emissions than those we have today.

The role of the RFS in reducing emissions was made explicitly clear by a letter this week from six members of the California delegation in the House of Representatives to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy regarding the need to restore the blending requirements to their statutory levels. California is one of the most active states that pursue policies aimed at reversing climate change, including state standards that impose limits on emissions from various fuels.

“The RFS is one of the few tools we have now to reduce transportation emissions, and a strong RFS is vital to implementing our state’s low carbon fuel standard,” the lawmakers from California wrote.

The report and its implied support of the RFS also comes at a time when the oil industry is once again launching a major campaign to discredit ethanol, and seek to either weaken or downright repeal the standard.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) is using multi-state television and online advertising to retread the long-discredited fables that more ethanol will result in damaged engines and raise the price of gasoline, despite reams of high profile and well supported research from the most credible of scientists, analysts and research institutions disproving the oil industry’s claims.

Renewable energy advocates need to step up and take advantage of opportunities provided by developments such as the national labs’ report, using the information that is readily available to counter and disprove specious claims made by those who simply want to exert their monopolistic hold on the fuel market. Share this research with policy makers, and let’s get biofuels back on the track towards our country’s clean energy future.

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