On Jan. 21, the EPA announced that E15 blends (15 % ethanol and 85 % gasoline) are now cleared for usage in cars and pickups built from 2001 to 2006. Late in 2010, the EPA had approved the E15 fuel blends for cars manufactured in 2007 and newer. Prior to the increasing of the allowable amount of ethanol in gasoline, the federal maximum ethanol blend was 10%. Minnesota currently allows up to a 20% ethanol blend for gasoline. It is estimated that approximately 62% of the cars and light trucks being driven today in the U.S. are 2001 or newer. The most recent E15 announcement by EPA does not affect gasoline for cars and trucks manufactured prior to 2001, or for boats, snowmobiles, lawnmowers and other small engines.
As expected, ethanol support groups, such as Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association, along with ethanol proponents in Congress, hailed the EPA decision to widen the use of the E15 fuel blends, while the petroleum industry, food groups and the livestock industry criticized the decision. It will take awhile for retailers to install new E15 pumps, and for the ethanol industry to produce the added ethanol to meet the growing demand for E15 fuel blends. EPA will also implement new labeling requirements for E15 pumps, which along with the growing anti-ethanol sentiment in some regions of the U.S., could temper the full effect of the added allowable ethanol in gasoline.
If the E15 fuel blends were implemented to the full extent, it could mean an estimated 17.5-20 billion gallons of ethanol being used annually in the U.S., which compares to just over 13 billion gallons being used currently. The 17.5-20-billion-gallon level of U.S. ethanol production would require approximately 6.5-7 billion bushels of corn to produce the ethanol, compared to the approximately 5.0 billion bushels of corn currently being used for ethanol production. The current levels of relatively high corn prices may slow the expansion of existing ethanol plants or the construction of new plants in order to increase ethanol production. Cellulosic ethanol is still in the development stage, and may be years away from commercial production. Current U.S. renewable fuels guidelines call for total renewable fuels production in the U.S. of 15 billion gallons by 2015, which can probably be met by the current infrastructure and production capacity.