Economist: 'Blending wall' stands in way of ethanol growth

Dec 22, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Ethanol production opened the door to the renewable fuels industry. The industry now must get past an imposing wall of federal regulations and market conditions if it hopes to grow, said a Purdue University agricultural economist.
"The ethanol industry is now faced with what is called a 'blending wall,'" said Wally Tyner, an energy policy specialist. "The ethanol industry will not and cannot grow with the blending wall in place. That means we won't have cellulosic ethanol and the demand for corn for ethanol will be limited unless the blending wall is somehow changed or we find a way around it."

Unless the barrier is removed, ethanol production could level off by 2010, Tyner said.

The blending wall refers to the amount of ethanol gasoline companies are permitted to blend with petroleum-based fuel. Federal standards set the amount at 10 percent of gasoline consumption.

"As a nation we consume about 140 billion gallons of gasoline a year," Tyner said. "So if we blended ethanol with every single drop of gasoline we consume, the maximum amount of ethanol blended would be 14 billion gallons a year. But for a number of reasons we can't blend ethanol with every drop of gasoline. Our effective blending wall is actually about 12 billion gallons, or 9 percent.

"We're not at 12 billion gallons yet, but we'll be there in 2009 or 2010. When we hit that blending wall, the Environmental Protection Agency cannot require gasoline companies to blend more ethanol than they are legally permitted to blend."

Several factors prevent the ethanol industry from breaking through the blending wall, Tyner said.

For starters, there are too few cars and trucks on the nation's roads capable of running on any gasoline with an ethanol blend higher than 10 percent, or what is commonly called E10, Tyner said. A huge gap exists between the E10 fleet and flex-fuel vehicles that run on E85 - an 85/15 ethanol to gasoline blend, he said.

"Only about 7 million of our nation's 300-plus million cars are E85 flex-fuel vehicles," Tyner said. "Also, we have just 1,700 fuel pumps in the entire country that can dispense E85, and most of those are in the Midwest. All of the E85 that's marketed nationwide could be produced by one ethanol plant."

Some in the ethanol industry have proposed that E10 be replaced by an E15 or E20 blend, thereby increasing ethanol use. However, automobile manufacturers do not believe today's E10 vehicles can run on a higher ethanol blend, Tyner said.

"Because the automobile fleet in the United States turns over about every 14 years, it would take some time before E15 or E20 cars would be as common as E10 are now," he said.

Ethanol production growth also is held back by environmental and infrastructure factors, Tyner said.

"In the South during the warm summer months, the vapor pressure of ethanol blends is higher than conventional gasoline," he said. "That causes more evaporative emissions and means the blended fuel does not meet Environmental Protection Agency evaporative emission standards.

"On the infrastructure side, ethanol cannot be shipped by pipeline because it is so corrosive and would absorb any water in the pipeline. It must move by truck, rail or barge instead. That presents logistical problems."

For ethanol production to push past 12 billion gallons per year the blending wall would have to be eliminated and oil prices would need to increase, Tyner said.

The blending wall affects corn prices, as well, by cutting the link between the corn price and the cost of crude oil, Tyner said. In the ethanol era, corn prices have followed oil prices up and down.

"In the economic models we've developed, corn prices never exceed $6 per bushel with the blending wall in place, even with oil prices at $160 per barrel, because you simply can't blend any more ethanol," he said.

"So the blending wall is perhaps the biggest issue the ethanol industry will face in 2009-10. Without a resolution of this issue, ethanol industry growth is about finished."

Provided by Purdue University

Explore further: Best of Last Week—Confirmed Earth-sized planet, testing twin paradox w/o a spaceship and news we all peak at 24

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

US does not have infrastructure to consume more ethanol

Jan 04, 2011

The United States doesn't have the infrastructure to meet the federal mandate for renewable fuel use with ethanol but could meet the standard with significant increases in cellulosic and next-generation biofuels, ...

Recommended for you

Not just the poor live hand-to-mouth

13 hours ago

When the economy hits the skids, government stimulus checks to the poor sometimes follow. Stimulus programs—such as those in 2001, 2008 and 2009—are designed to boost the economy quickly by getting cash ...

Math modeling handbook now available

16 hours ago

Math comes in handy for answering questions about a variety of topics, from calculating the cost-effectiveness of fuel sources and determining the best regions to build high-speed rail to predicting the spread ...

Archaeologists, tribe clash over Native remains

16 hours ago

Archaeologists and Native Americans are clashing over Indian remains and artifacts that were excavated during a construction project in the San Francisco Bay Area, but then reburied at an undisclosed location.

Male-biased tweeting

18 hours ago

Today women take an active part in public life. Without a doubt, they also converse with other women. In fact, they even talk to each other about other things besides men. As banal as it sounds, this is far ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

barakn
3.4 / 5 (5) Dec 22, 2008
Good.
JerryPark
1 / 5 (1) Dec 23, 2008
We could, of course, show some modicum of intelligence and stop the ethanol madness.

We won't because there is too much money to be made from the government subsidies and mandates.
Velanarris
1 / 5 (1) Dec 23, 2008
Good.

Whole heartedly agreed.
mtulloch
1 / 5 (1) Dec 24, 2008
How silly. Don't believe the oil company hype. Most vehicles that are E10 capable do not have materials in their fuel systems harmed by ethyl alcohol. Modern car's fuel injections systems are capable of adjusting over a wide range of fuel energy densities. I can speak for Chrysler vehicles (Durango, PT, and Neon) because I've been running self blended ratios of 50% ethanol in these vehicles with no ill effects since 2005. Oil looks cleaner, mileage is, of course, lower, and performance is slightly better. The Durango no longer pings when pulling our 6000# trailer. The blend barrier is a product of oil company lobbying and protectionism. Want more proof? Visit Brazil.
Velanarris
not rated yet Dec 25, 2008
Oil looks cleaner, mileage is, of course, lower, and performance is slightly better.

Mileage being lower and performance being better? Which one is it? A big measure of performance is how well the vehicle can extract the energy from the fuel and then aply it.

Secondly, the price of corn skyrocketed with the biofuel rush. I'd rather eat than drive.

Couple that with the fact that biofuel is almost twice the pollutant that regular gasoline is and you have a 3 time loser on your hands.

More news stories

Male-biased tweeting

Today women take an active part in public life. Without a doubt, they also converse with other women. In fact, they even talk to each other about other things besides men. As banal as it sounds, this is far ...

Not just the poor live hand-to-mouth

When the economy hits the skids, government stimulus checks to the poor sometimes follow. Stimulus programs—such as those in 2001, 2008 and 2009—are designed to boost the economy quickly by getting cash ...

Archaeologists, tribe clash over Native remains

Archaeologists and Native Americans are clashing over Indian remains and artifacts that were excavated during a construction project in the San Francisco Bay Area, but then reburied at an undisclosed location.

When things get glassy, molecules go fractal

Colorful church windows, beads on a necklace and many of our favorite plastics share something in common—they all belong to a state of matter known as glasses. School children learn the difference between ...

SK Hynix posts Q1 surge in net profit

South Korea's SK Hynix Inc said Thursday its first-quarter net profit surged nearly 350 percent from the previous year on a spike in sales of PC memory chips.

FCC to propose pay-for-priority Internet standards

The Federal Communications Commission is set to propose new open Internet rules that would allow content companies to pay for faster delivery over the so-called "last mile" connection to people's homes.