To E15-inity and beyond

Natural gas fracking well in Louisiana, (c) 2013 Daniel Foster

Ethanol Producer Magazine notes that the "industry optimistically awaits E15 waiver decision."  Faced with market mandates that drive up demand for all the ethanol they produced, but technical constraints on how much they can stick in each gallon of gasoline we buy, the industry has one again worked the political angle on the problem.  The limits on blend rates incorrectly estimated the concentration that would damage vehicle fueling systems, the argument goes.  We can really stick in 50% more ethanol without doing damage.

Here's the rub:  the ethanol industry doesn't own our vehicles, and doesn't have to pay for vehicle damage if they are wrong about their fuel impacts. 

While I'm happy that the Renewable Fuels Association thinks this is the right move, its hard to say their incentives are aligned with that of fuel consumers.  So when even GM, a company that has long promoted high ethanol blends, has concerns about a rapid national roll-out, we ought to pay attention. The American Automobile Association has also come out in opposition, though unlike RFA they collect the same member dues regardless what ethanol blend I use in my car.  Impacts on vehicle warranties also remain unresolved, should the higher blends turn out to damage vehicle systems.  With the US backing warranties on some GM vehicles as part of its stabilization plan for the auto sector, this creates a further complication and potential subsidy to the sector.

If RFA's Bob Dineen and Matt Hartwig were willing to pledge their own houses and future salaries as collateral to pay for any damages to vehicle fueling or emissions control systems, I'd have a great deal more confidence in their support for rapid adoption of higher blending rates nationally.

As an aside, the article mentions 136,000 jobs created, apparently based on this paper.  It is a rare article on any form of energy now that doesn't make some claim about job creation -- good jobs, clean jobs, green jobs.  Maybe not net jobs, and maybe lower than average rates of job creation per million dollars in the US economy in general, but who's counting?  We need some central clearing house to fact check all of these job claims; there is no way they can all be right.  Some general principles on comparing created jobs are also needed: gross versus net; temporary versus permanent; domestic versus foreign; well distributed versus available only in a few parts of the country; rapid rampup versus years in the future.