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Big Oil Battles Ethanol

by Dan Cash

(E85 Ethanol biodiesel fuel is shown being pumped into a vehicle at a gas station in Nevada, Iowa) 

The Renewable Fuels Association is trying to untangle the language scramble that is eexpressed in the surprising two sides of the motor fuel equation. The most recent “straw man” - - at least that’s how the Ethanol people see it - - is something called the blend wall.  The oil industry contends it cannot blend more ethanol with gasoline, because there’s no market for it - - because there aren’t enough motors burning motor fuel that can accommodate more then 10% ethanol blend.  Thus, the “blend wall”.

In ten pages of comments submitted to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, chaired by Michigan’s Fred UptonRenewable Fuels Association President Bob Dinneen wrote, “In short” - - and this is a quote- - the RFA believes the blend wall is a creation of the oil companies failure to respond appropriately to the very clear market signal” - - - and so on.

I’m thinking this is a reference, as I suggested some time ago, that what we have here, is that “Chicken or the Egg” question, as in which came first.  As for renewable fuels, Dineen contends the blend wall is a creation within the motor fuel industry, based on the investment question, do we go for the renewable fuels, assuming the auto industry can and will engineer vehicles to accommodate the new fuel; or do we wait for the auto industry to develop the appropriate engine technology, to accommodate the fuel blends.  Dineen says the oil industry plugged up the investment stream that should have led to a solution to the question, anticipating this blend wall, which big oil expected would stall the requirements of the Renewable Fuels Standards.           

I have experienced the very kinds of ethanol favors Dineen explains in his comments to the Upton committee.  Dineen claims ethanol improves car performances, and lowers gasoline prices.  I can’t confirm that part of it, but I have, without question, used a 10 percent blend in a nearly new Buick, in an older Chevrolet Pickup truck, and in a series of garden tractors, lawn mowers, chain saws, string trimmers, and on and on - - without discernible negative effect..    

If the ethanol business continues unencumbered, the demand for corn should maintain, and perhaps increase.  If the blend wall can be hurdled, the further demand for renewable fuels that would ensue, will almost surely expand the markets for the next generation of renewable fuels - - the biofuels, using corn stalks, woodland produce, household waste, and just about anything else containing cellulose.

And, as I’m closing this out, I’m remembering being told that NASCAR has powered several of its racers with pure ethanol.  Of course it can be done!

Karl Guenther is a retired Kalamazoo farm broadcaster and can be reached atkhguenther@att.net. He is a member of Michigan Farm Bureau and an emeritus member of theNational Association of Farm Broadcasting.