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Ethanol plants will come to fruition by 2014. Companies are working out the details of harvesting cellulose without harming the soil. The fight over the Renewable Fuel Standard has made investors wary of new tech.
The RFS is “flexible enough to accommodate various swings in both production and availability of fuels,” says Abengoa’s Standlee. “The petroleum industry has had six years to plan for the infrastructure needed to distribute ethanol-blended fuels. Automobile manufacturers now produce the great majority of their vehicles as flex-fuel vehicles, capable of using blends up to 85% ethanol, and they have recently acknowledged the great potential benefit of higher ethanol blends from both an environmental and an octane and mileage standpoint.”
The EPA has tested and approved all vehicles that have been manufactured since 2001 for E15 use. “As these vehicles have become over 80% of the vehicle fleet, we are confident that adequate markets exist for blends greater than E10,” Standlee says.
“E15 is already offered at several fuel stations in the Midwest, but access does need to expand,” DIB’s Mirshak says. “The easiest way for that to happen is for fuel station operators to stop feeling pressure from parent companies not to offer the fuel, and for misrepresentations about E15 to give way to the reality that it’s an affordable, high-energy fuel that works. As resistance to allowing station owners to offer E15 decreases, consumers will be able to get the fuel in more locations. That, in turn, will help open up the market for cellulosic ethanol.”
Stumbling blocks to the growth of cellulosic ethanol exist. But the industry is keeping its eyes on the prize. And the prizes are significant — reduced dependence on foreign oil, lower greenhouse gas emissions, investments in rural communities, growth in green collar jobs, returns on investment for ethanol producers and their investors, and new markets for farmers who could produce a number of different feedstocks.