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As Renewable Fuel Standard turns 10, ethanol advocates push for widescale adoption of E30

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Photo via National Renewable Energy Lab.

Ten years ago, the passage of the Renewable Fuel Standard paved the way for nationwide use of ethanol-blended fuels, largely in the form of E10 and more recently as E15. As of late, however, ethanol advocates have been making the case for allowing non-flex fuel vehicles to use blends as high as E30.

Though initially laid out in 2005, the Renewable Fuel Standard came into force with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, signed into law in December of that year. Under the RFS, the Environmental Protection Agency was charged with setting annual requirements for total amounts of ethanol (in addition to biodiesel) to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply, ideally to follow a schedule that would increase those amounts from 9 billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion gallons in 2022, the latter comprising a maximum of 15 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol and a minimum of 16 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol.

While the EPA considers the amounts of each level of blended fuel – from E0 to E10, E15, and up to E85 – sold when setting annual RFS requirements, it doesn’t mandate those amounts. It does, however, have the authority to approve different blends of fuels for use in different vehicles under a waiver program and has used that authority twice: In 1978, it approved E10 for use in all vehicles; and in 2012, it approved E15 for use in 2001 and newer model year vehicles. Any blends higher than E15 are to date approved only for flex-fuel vehicles designed to use any blend ranging from E0 to E85.

As early as 2007, ethanol advocates have proposed allowing regular internal combustion vehicles to use E30, and the EPA briefly looked into issuing a waiver for it in 2013. However, a campaign out of South Dakota has over the last year or so promoted widescale use of E30. According to Glacial Lakes Energy, which runs an ethanol refinery near Mina, it has sold nearly 2 million gallons of the blend with no adverse effects.

That result has led Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, to envision spreading the blend across the country. “My hope is that I can take what you’ve learned from this experience and I want to replicate it in cities like Chicago, Dallas and Atlanta,” she told Glacial Lakes earlier this month.

The South Dakota Farmers Union has also spearheaded a push to approve E30 for use in non-flex fuel vehicles. In March its members urged the National Farmers Union to pass a resolution calling for an EPA waiver for E30. More recently, the SDFU’s president has made comments critical of the EPA for not taking up a study on E30 and higher-blend fuels.

“Members are taking a stand against EPA regulations that limit the use of ethanol blends in non-flex vehicles,” SDFU President Doug Sombke said. “EPA and all government regulators should immediately reverse statements and policies that unfairly limit the amount of ethanol we can put in our cars.”

Renewable Fuels Association President Bob Dinneen has also, in end-of-the-year statements, pushed for E30 development in 2018.

The EPA has not taken any action to issue a waiver for its use in non-flex fuel vehicles, nor did it even mention E30 in its 2018 RFS standards, released last month.

At least two bills in Congress have called for capping ethanol-blended fuels at E10. Both remain in committee.