The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) last week announced that Iowa's 43 ethanol plants produced over 4 billion gallons of the corn-based fuel during 2015, up slightly from 3.9 billion gallons in 2014.
Iowa continues to be the No. 1 ethanol producing state and is estimated to have accounted for roughly 27% of national ethanol production in 2015. The increase came from efficiency gains and "de-bottlenecking" at existing plants, as well as some ethanol production from cellulosic feedstocks such as corn stover and corn kernel fiber.
Blender pump program will help boost ethanol use in 2016
"While Iowa took a modest step forward in ethanol production in 2015, we have the corn supplies to really expand ethanol production," says IRFA executive director Monte Shaw. "What we don't have is access to the market for higher ethanol blends. However, the new USDA blender pump grant program will help move the needle forward in 2016."
The blender pump program announced last fall by USDA is a cost-share program available to fuel retailers, to help make it more affordable for them to install blender pumps at gas stations so fuel retailers can provide E15 and higher blends of ethanol to motorists. Most of the nation's ethanol-blended gasoline supply currently available contains the E10 or 10% blend.
The oil industry, which owns gas stations and contracts with other retailers to sell gasoline, doesn't want to give up any more of its petroleum market share than the 10% of the market that ethanol has already taken, says Shaw. The oil industry isn't going to assist retailers in installing blender pumps to deliver higher ethanol blends.
Need to crack petroleum industry's monopoly on fuel choice
"Also, looking ahead in 2016, we hope the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will get the Renewable Fuel Standard back on track when EPA proposes the RFS levels for 2017," says Shaw. "If we can crack the petroleum industry's monopoly on fuel choice available at retail gas stations, it will benefit consumers, farmers and the environment."
The RFS is a law established by Congress in 2007 requiring EPA to announce by November 30 each year the amount of ethanol and other renewable fuel required to be blended in the nation's motor fuel supply the following year. On November 30, 2015 EPA announced the required level for 2016. It's higher than the proposed level EPA recommended in May 2015 but lower than the RFS target for 2016 set by Congress.
In its November 30, 2015 announcement, EPA said refiners are required to blend 18.11 billion gallons of renewable fuel into the U.S. gasoline and diesel fuel supply in 2016. That's an increase from the agency's 17.4 billion gallons proposed last May, but well below the 22.25 billion target set by Congress in 2007. The increase largely reflects rising gasoline consumption tied to low pump prices and doesn't mean more ethanol would be added to each gallon of gas.
Hopefully, EPA will follow RFS levels set by Congress for 2017
Renewable fuel supporters and corn farmers, along with Iowa officials remain widely critical of EPA's decision in setting the volume requirements for 2016. "I'm extremely disappointed that EPA's final decision failed to follow the renewable volume levels set by Congress," says Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. "Unfortunately, EPA's decision this past November shows the lack of interest by the Obama Administration in providing consumers more choice at the pump, creating jobs and increasing incomes in rural America, and in reducing our dependence on foreign oil."
Iowa is the nation's leader in renewable fuels production. Iowa has 43 ethanol refineries capable of producing 3.9 billion gallons annually, including nearly 55 million gallons of annual cellulosic ethanol production capacity. In addition, Iowa has 12 biodiesel facilities with the capacity to produce nearly 315 million gallons annually. For more information, visit IowaRFA.org.
Register now for 10th annual Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit
IRFA also recently announced online registration is now open for the 10th Annual Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit to be held January 19, 2016.
"Our 10th Annual Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit is set to be bigger and better than ever," says IRFA managing director Lucy Norton. "With so much discussion about the RFS and with the Iowa Caucuses right around the corner, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit will be a great place to learn and engage on the latest renewable fuels issues."The event is free to attend and open to the public. Registration is required. It will take place at The Meadows Conference Center at Prairie Meadows in Altoona, on the northeast edge of Des Moines, on Tuesday, January 19. To register to attend or to learn more about the summit and review sponsorship and trade show opportunities, visit IowaRFA.org/10th-annual-iowa-renewable-fuels-summit/.