Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Higher ethanol blends could be bad for environment, engines

Washington, D.C. — Sometimes when the government tries to solve one problem, it creates five others. This is exactly the case, observers say, when Congress passed the U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. 

This bill mandates the use of corn ethanol to increase from the 4.7 billion gallons being used in 2007 to 36 billion gallons by 2022. The E10 blend is now considered the “regular” gasoline almost everywhere fuel is sold.

Some have speculated that the main reason that corn-ethanol mandates and subsidies still exist is to keep the number one corn producer, Iowa, happy, since it hosts the first presidential primary election and can influence who becomes the front-runner. 

We were all taught as a child that trying to put a square peg into a round hole rarely works out very well. To try to make the U.S. less dependent on imported oil, the government subsidizes ethanol production through generous taxpayer subsidies.

Unfortunately, ethanol gets about a 1⁄3 fewer miles to the gallon than gasoline and causes many problems. The increase in corn production is responsible for the withdrawal of millions of acres of conservation enrollments and losses of native prairies, wetlands, and other sensitive habitats.

Corn is a thirsty crop and in low precipitation areas, irrigation from ground water supplies has measurably lowered the Ogallala fossil water table aquifer. Huge algae blooms have resulted from increased nutrient run-off, leading to corresponding dead zones in the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico as they decay.

In a U.S. Coast Guard report to Congress released in 2012, it was reported that E10 in older vessels caused “catastrophic damage,” including deterioration of fiberglass fuel tanks, clogged fuel systems, leaking gaskets, corrosion, and dislodging of fuel tars and gum deposits.

The Coast Guard further says that during periods of boat inactivity, the ethanol blends with moisture in the tank and settles to the bottom, called phase separation, resulting in rough engine performance, stalling, and damage.

Additional fuel/water separators and filters are often installed to try to compensate.

They also attribute the majority of boat fires and explosions that have occurred in recent years to these leaks in the gaskets and fuel line hoses.

Nonetheless, the ethanol industry successfully lobbied the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year to allow bumping the concentration of ethanol in gasoline from 10 percent to 15 percent for general use in order to meet the 2022 consumption goals.

The main reason that they need a higher concentration is that demand for fuel has fallen in the U.S., due to more fuel efficient vehicles and more conservative driving habits. To use the targeted amount of ethanol, the concentration has to be increased to blend it into the fewer gallons of gasoline being used.

Opposing higher ethanol concentration are small engine manufacturers, automakers, the petroleum industry, and the Boat Owners Association of the United States. 

Boat U.S. is a 500,000-member organization that provides boat insurance, towing service to boat owners on the water or when trailering, representation in Washington D.C., boater safety programs, educational seminars, online tutorial modules, and recreational boater advocacy. 

Boat U.S. has two lobbyists in Washington D.C., who have been speaking to key legislators to educate them about issues that concern recreational boaters, including cell phone signal encroachment on GPS frequencies, mandatory adult life jacket wearing, EPA permits to discharge small amounts of water from recreational  vessels, marine loan legislation, and FCC licensing requirements of marine radios. 

Boat U.S. has been engaged for years in the battle to protect recreational boaters from engine damages that will happen if the 15 percent ethanol blends are allowed to be freely sold. They are also a member of a coalition called Smarter Fuel Future (smarterfuelfuture.org) that provides education about ethanol in our fuels.

Boat U.S. reports in its newsletter that there has been new legislation introduced to fix the problem. One, by Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) called the Renewable Fuel Standard Reform Act of 2015, would prohibit marketing of ethanol blends higher than 10 percent. Co-sponsors include Tim Costa (D-Calif.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), and Steve Womack (R-Ark.).

Rep. Goodlatte also introduced legislation that would eliminate the fuel blending requirements, called the Renewable Fuel Standard Elimination Act.

Senators Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) offered an amendment to the Keystone Pipeline legislation that would remove the corn-ethanol mandate by amending the Clean Air Act.

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