Blog: Go with the flow

Guest blog: The debate about ethanol

This week our guest blogger Claira Lloyd, the Editor of Hydrocarbon Engineering magazine is discussing the topical ethanol date:

“I’ve been following the E15 debate with avid interest since the very beginning. The US EPA proposed the introduction of a 15% ethanol level in gasoline in early 2010 and since then tensions have been fraught between the EPA and institutes such as the API and AFPM. The AFPM even launched an ad campaign in July 2010 (along with many other associations) pointing out the harm E15 could do to some engines with strap lines such as ‘Say no to untested E15’ and ‘Don’t let the ethanol industry leave you stranded.’ The argument that E15 is not safe for engines in everything from cars to lawn mowers made before 2000 is valid and the EPA is still being asked to test E15 further to ensure that problems will not occur with any engine which may void warranties and guarantees. As you can see, this debate has been on going for three years, and anxiety between the EPA, industry institutions, and consumers is yet to abate.

Ethanol was originally hailed as the ‘next big thing in fuel’, which would help the environment and lead nations such as the US towards an independent energy market. However, times have changed and in a recent Financial Times analysis article, ‘Against the grain’, it is highlighted that while the debate surrounding E15 still exists, it’s not the only thing hindering ethanol blended fuels from becoming the norm. The recession is pointed out as an event that affected the demand for ethanol and biofuels. The dramatic increase in demand for these products during the decade before the crash caused the price of grain to spike during 2007 – 08 (the cusp of the global financial problems) as well as 2011 and 2012, causing poorer countries that import a large portion of their food to fall in to even deeper poverty. This global problem was one which prompted ethanol and biofuel producers to consider their volumes. And, environmentalists, also causing a stir, questioned the amount of land being converted and dedicated to corn.

Looking more at the fuel side of things, ethanol blended products during the recession were indeed more expensive than fossil fuels, from production to pump, so not only was the amount of biofuels produced lower but demand dropped too. A more recent event that has affected demand, also highlighted in the Financial Times article, is the US shale revolution. This has seen the country’s ethanol production become stagnant which is not good news for this part of our industry, as the US produces over 60% of the world’s ethanol. However, who can blame the US for lowering and in some instances abandoning the production of ethanol for a more abundant and cheaper energy source, which could indeed result in the nation becoming energy independent?

Personally, when looking at the role of ethanol blended fuels, I believe that until testing has been carried out to levels that satisfy all parties, it is clear that trained relationships will be around for a while. Nevertheless, it is important that an agreed and safe level of ethanol if established; the future looks green, and the Renewable Fuel Standard could be integral to ensuring that our industry doesn’t get left behind.”


Claira Lloyd

the Editor of Hydrocarbon Engineering magazine

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