US does not have infrastructure to consume more ethanol

January 4, 2011 by Brian Wallheimer, Purdue University
Wally Tyner says it will take advances in next-generation biofuels for the United States to meet federal Renewable Fuel Standard requirements. Credit: Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell

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, according to a Purdue University study.

Wally Tyner, the James and Lois Ackerman Professor of Agricultural Economics, and co-authors Frank Dooley, a Purdue professor of agricultural economics, and Daniela Viteri, a former Purdue graduate student, used U.S. Department of Energy and data to determine that the United States is at the "blending wall," the saturation point for ethanol use. Without new technology or a significant increase in infrastructure, Tyner predicts that the country will not be able to consume more ethanol than is being currently produced.

The federal Renewable Fuel Standard requires an increase of renewable fuel production to 36 billion gallons per year by 2022. About 13 billion gallons of renewable fuel was required for 2010, the same amount Tyner predicts is the threshold for U.S. infrastructure and consumption ability.

"You can't get there with ethanol," said Tyner, whose findings were published in the December issue of the .

Tyner said there simply aren't enough flex-fuel vehicles, which use an 85 percent , or E85 stations to distribute more biofuels. According to EPA estimates, flex-fuel vehicles make up 7.3 million of the 240 million vehicles on the nation's roads. Of those, about 3 million of flex-fuel vehicle owners aren't even aware they can use E85 fuel.

There are only about 2,000 E85 fuel pumps in the United States, and it took more than 20 years to install them.

"Even if you could produce a whole bunch of E85, there is no way to distribute it," Tyner said. "We would need to install about 2,000 pumps per year through 2022 to do it. You're not going to go from 100 per year to 2,000 per year overnight. It's just not going to happen."

And even if the fuel could be distributed, E85 would have to be substantially cheaper than gasoline to entice consumers to use it because E85 gets lower mileage, Tyner said. If gasoline were $3 per gallon, E85 would have to be $2.34 per gallon to break even on mileage.

There is talk of increasing the maximum amount of ethanol that can be blended with gasoline for regular vehicles from 10 percent to 15 percent. But Tyner said that even if the EPA does allow it, the blending wall would be reached again in about four years.

Tyner said advances in the production of thermo-chemical biofuels, which are created by using heat to chemically alter biomass and create fuels, would be necessary to meet the Standard. He said those fuels would be similar enough to gasoline to allow unlimited blending and would increase the amount of biofuel that could be used.

"Producing the hydrocarbons directly doesn't have the infrastructure problems of ethanol, and there is no blend wall because you're producing gasoline," Tyner said. "If that comes on and works, then we get there. There is significant potential to produce drop-in hydrocarbons from cellulosic feedstocks."

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

Related Stories

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

December 22, 2008

( -- 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 ...

Ethanol's agricultural impact is mixed

October 19, 2005

Purdue University economists say converting more corn into ethanol might profit many interests, but not all in the agriculture industry would benefit.

Is ethanol better for the environment than gas?

June 23, 2010

Dear EarthTalk: Where does ethanol as an automobile fuel fit into the alternative energy mix? Is it better for the environment than gasoline? (Donna Allgaier-Lamberti; Pullman, Mich.)

Fuel ethanol cannot alleviate US dependence on petroleum

July 1, 2005

A new study of the carbon dioxide emissions, cropland area requirements, and other environmental consequences of growing corn and sugarcane to produce fuel ethanol indicates that the "direct and indirect environmental impacts ...

Recommended for you

A statistical look at the probability of future major wars

February 22, 2018

Aaron Clauset, an assistant professor and computer scientist at the University of Colorado, has taken a calculating look at the likelihood of a major war breaking out in the near future. In an article published on the open ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

0.3 / 5 (39) Jan 04, 2011
The U.S. does not have the infrastructure to do pretty much anything.

And with infrastructure investment about to be cut to zero by the Republican Traitors just elected to office, that fact isn't going to change any time soon.

America is dead as a nation.
5 / 5 (1) Jan 04, 2011
Nice to see that the government is trying to discredit another nascent industry by blowing it up beyond all proportion well before it is ready and wasting money on inappropriate levels of subsidies. They also seem to have decided that ethanol should be chosen as the winner when other biofuels that are superior and could be fermented as easilly with a little development, are given the bum's rush.
not rated yet Jan 04, 2011
Vendicar_Decarian - You have a bad ATTITUDE! Do you own an E85 flex-fuel vehicle? I don't, and most other people don't either. What do you want; another Cash 4 Clunkers law to get everyone to buy a new E85 capable vehicle? Why didn't congress restrict the type of vehicle to E85 the last time?
not rated yet Jan 04, 2011
"You have a bad ATTITUDE! Do you own an E85 flex-fuel vehicle?" - Doobie Doo

My vehicle gets 50 to 70 Mpg, and I spend about 6 bucks a week commuting to and from work.

Of course, this has absolutely nothing do to with the ongoing death of the failed American State, but I understand why you feel a need to change the subject.
0.1 / 5 (35) Jan 05, 2011
"There are only about 2,000 E85 fuel pumps in the United States, and it took more than 20 years to install them." - Ningie

The Republican party of NO spent the last 20 years opposing those pumps to further the interests of their Oil Industry Co-conspirators in Treason.

5 / 5 (1) Jan 05, 2011
Obama is fully onboard with the disastrous ethanol subsidies aka Big Agriculture Welfare. Neither party has the guts to just say no to inefficient corn-to-ethanol and upset the billionaire Corn Barons of Iowa. All corn subsidies should stop and invest some or all of that into fusion research or the space program or pay down the debt or just put the cash in a big pile and burn it. Any of those will be better than what we are doing. Drill for oil too, because alternatives aren't here yet and we need to get from here to there. Ignoring the here part is plain dumb.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.