Friday, April 08, 2011

Senator fears ethanol industry's efforts to help itself are blocking way for next-generation fuels

At least one senator has voiced concerns that the ethanol industry's drive to increase its market is blocking the way for development of the next generation of transportation fuels. Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, "chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, worries that building an infrastructure for ethanol could discourage the development of synthetic versions of gasoline, diesel and other conventional fuels," Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register reports.

Those fuels could be distributed through existing pipelines and service stations, while infrastructure improvements are needed to handle higher blends of ethanol. Such "drop-in" fuels are the "best fit for the country" in the medium to long term, Bingaman said at a hearing Thursday on a proposal by Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa that "would require automakers to equip new cars and trucks to run on both ethanol and gasoline and require service stations to install pumps that can dispense varying blends of the biofuel," Brasher writes. Bingaman noted, "We should not go so far in locking our infrastructure into ethanol that we prevent different, and perhaps even better, renewable fuels from coming to market in the future."

While both ethanol and drop-in fuels can be made from non-food feedstocks, Iowa State University research "partly funded by oil refiner ConocoPhillips suggests the drop-in fuels could be made less expensively than cellulosic ethanol through a process known as pyrolysis," Brasher writes. The ethanol industry argues drop-in fuel availability for consumers is still years away. Without policy changes, like the Environmental Protection Agency increasing the allotted ethanol blend in gasoline, the ethanol industry "is fast running out of a market for its product even as federal biofuel mandates are continuing to increase under a 2007 law," Brasher writes. (Read more)

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