The USDA and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently released a National Biofuels Action Plan, an interagency plan detailing their collaborative efforts to accelerate the development of a sustainable biofuels industry. In the plan, the agencies affirmed the potential of mid-range ethanol blends such as E12, E15 and E20, saying they “represent a critical pathway” to meet the president’s goal of reducing petroleum-based gasoline usage by 20% in the next 10 years.

In coordination with the action plan, the DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) with Battelle Memorial Institute released an interim study detailing the Effects of Intermediate Ethanol Blends on Legacy Vehicles and Small Non-road Engines, affirming the potential for mid-range ethanol blends.

The American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE), the nation’s largest ethanol advocacy association, applauded the departments’ commitment to blends beyond E10. Brian Jennings, ACE executive vice president, made the following statement:

We applaud the U.S. departments of agriculture and energy for making this affirmative statement that mid-range blends of ethanol ‘represent a critical pathway’ to meet the goal of reducing our dangerous and expensive dependence on fossil fuels for transportation. Ethanol is here today and already making an important contribution as a homegrown, clean and cost-effective alternative to oil, and moving beyond E10 to mid-range blends such as E12, E15 or E20 only accelerates the benefits to American motorists and the nation’s economy.

We recognize, as the National Biofuels Action Plan states, that more must be understood about how mid-range ethanol blends affect emissions, driving performance and other factors, though the preliminary data indicates that there are no showstoppers. The state of Minnesota research on E20 found no materials compatibility issues with standard vehicles or fueling infrastructure, and the research conducted by ACE with the DOE found positive driveability and fuel economy results for mid-range blends, especially E20 and E30. Nevertheless, we recognize that more collaboration and research is necessary.

Furthermore, the ORNL-NREL interim report on mid-range ethanol blends provides further evidence that we need to aggressively pursue options to move beyond E10. According to this report, in 13 of 16 vehicles tested on blends such as E15 and E20, tailpipe emissions ‘remained largely unaffected’ by the ethanol content of the fuel, and as ethanol content increased oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions showed no significant change and carbon monoxide (CO) emissions dropped slightly. Furthermore, the interim study found that catalyst temperatures were cooler or unchanged with higher levels of ethanol. Finally, the preliminary research shows that ‘none of the vehicles displayed a malfunction indicator light as a result of the ethanol content of the fuel, no filter plugging symptoms were observed, no cold start problems were observed and no fuel leaks or conspicuous degradation of the fuel systems were observed.’

These preliminary findings, combined with the preliminary data from previous studies, represents a growing body of scientific evidence in support of moving beyond the base blend of 10% ethanol in gasoline.

We also appreciate the interagency recommendation to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to deliver mid-range ethanol blends, and we encourage the federal government to more aggressively support the installation and incentivization of blender pumps that can dispense a variety of ethanol blend levels.

ACE believes it is in the best interest of all parties – including the government, automakers and petroleum interests – to work collaboratively toward a solution that makes mid-range ethanol blends available to consumers. We recognize the need to strike a balance between the desire of the ethanol industry to have the federal government approve an increase in the base blend of ethanol in gasoline and the concerns of the automakers that we patiently conduct more comprehensive research. Striking this balance requires that ethanol, auto, and other stakeholders collaborate as we move forward. ACE members welcome the opportunity to partner with the auto industry and the federal government to rapidly conduct the additional testing needed to ensure the approval of mid-range ethanol blends in gasoline.

In today’s marketplace, refiners can make an E10 blend for a savings of 12¢/gal. compared to unleaded. Increasing the ethanol content per gallon will benefit consumers by increasing the savings; for example, E15 would save consumers 18¢/gal. and savings at a 20% blend would be nearly 25¢/gal. These additional savings at the pump would be beneficial to our struggling national economy.”

For more information, visit Ethanol.org or the higher ethanol blends section.