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Ethanol a sensible path toward lower fuel prices

By Alan Tiemann

Letter to the Editor, published in the Omaha World Herald on April 6, 2012. Alan Tiemann is a farmer from Seward and chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board.

Gas prices keep heading north.

You can see it at the pump and feel it in your wallet. Analysts keep talking it, adding fuel to the high gas price fire. Prices recently passed $4.00 – but will they reach $5.00 a gallon? I sure hope not because the billions of dollars spent at the pump are just one way high gas prices impact our weekly budgets and consumer confidence. Energy and transportation costs also drive up the price of everything else we buy, further lightening our wallets. And that’s not good for our recovering economy.

While we’ve seen high gas prices before, what’s interesting this go around is that U.S. demand for gasoline is down. While oil refiners and fuel blenders can attempt to explain how lower demand equals higher prices – perhaps they’ll mention they’re exporting record amounts of U.S. gasoline overseas or the higher cost of oil imports – there are opportunities to save motorists money right now.

We have a lower-cost renewable fuel on hand and the capacity to produce more right now. This lower-cost fuel – ethanol – is made here in Nebraska and across the country. A gallon of straight ethanol costs up to $1 per gallon less than gasoline.

Yet the fuel industry isn’t using as much ethanol as it could, as a record amount sits in storage. This just goes to show that big oil won’t use ethanol anytime it has an option to use something else, even if that something else is more expensive gasoline that costs us all more money.

Consumers should be outraged we aren’t using more of a lower cost fuel that is readily available – but there’s more than just the oil industry at fault here.

Because we’re using less gasoline overall, fuel blenders can only use so much ethanol before they max out, currently 10 percent ethanol for a base fuel. This is why we’ve been working so hard to get E15, a 15 percent ethanol blend, to market. E15 is approved for 2001 and newer cars and light duty trucks and SUVs, some 120 million vehicles on the road today.

While the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent registration of E15 moves the blend a lot closer to reality, it is going to take time to see it at your local pump – and pumps across the country. Even so, the ethanol sector is already looking beyond E15 simply because that limit will be reached, too.

Another sensible option is to increase the availability and use of mid-level ethanol blends, like E20 and E30, and the use of E85, a fuel that uses 85 percent ethanol and only 15 percent petroleum-based gasoline.

These higher ethanol blends are becoming more available for those driving flex-fuel vehicles, yet we need more stations to carry them so as the number of flex-fuel vehicles expands, motorists can take advantage of more renewable fuels.

This is also important because automakers need to meet much higher fuel efficiency standards in the future – and they’ll need high-octane fuel to make it happen. Renewable, clean-burning ethanol is a tremendous octane enhancer. We need to get E15 to market and then keep working toward higher blends to help ensure a smooth transition to these high octane fuels and engines designed to run efficiently on them.

We have a capacity to produce about 14 billion gallons of ethanol in the United States, easily more than 10 percent of our motor fuel needs. We have ethanol sitting in storage tanks that could be saving us money right now. Let’s apply some common sense and get this fuel to market and grow the amount we use. In the long-run we’ll all win.

    For Your Information

    Commodity Checkoffs 101Sustaining InnovationAm Ethanol Labels2019 Ag Champions ProgramFood & Fuel InformationCommon GroundE85 Cost Comparison
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Nebraska Corn Board works to promote the value of corn by creating opportunities.


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Lincoln, NE 68509-5107
Tel 402-471-2676
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