Ethanol industry pushes for more exports, higher blends

EPA weighs raising ethanol percentage in gasoline

By DAVE WILKINS

Capital Press

U.S. ethanol exports are on the rise, in part because of limitations on domestic ethanol blends, industry officials contend.

The renewable fuel, often promoted as reducing American dependence on foreign oil, is increasingly being shipped out of the country, officials said.

Government data show that U.S. ethanol exports are up significantly so far this year, the Renewable Fuels Association reported. Exports exceeded 83 million gallons in the first quarter. Shipments have gone to dozens of countries, including some in the Middle East, the group said.

One reason for the growth in U.S. ethanol exports is the saturated domestic market, industry officials said. Ethanol use in the U.S. is capped at 10 percent per gallon of gasoline.

Because of that restriction, the industry is "being forced to look to the export market for additional growth opportunities," Geoff Cooper, vice president of research for Renewable Fuels Association, said in a recent press release.

"The question becomes: Do we want to export our biofuels and the benefits they provide, or do we want to use them here at home to help secure our energy future?" he asked.

"Given the opportunity, today's industry can do both," Cooper said.

The U.S. is also a low-cost producer of ethanol, which has made the product globally competitive, association officials said.

The U.S. ethanol industry has long lobbied for higher fuel blend levels and it has been turning up the heat in anticipation of a government decision this summer.

The Department of Transportation has been evaluating higher ethanol blends such as 15 percent ethanol -- called E15 -- in vehicles made after 2001.

The data will be used by the Environmental Protection Agency to determine whether to raise allowable ethanol blend levels.

In March 2009, Growth Energy, a biofuels industry association, requested a waiver to allow the use of up to 15 percent ethanol in gasoline.

In a letter to Growth Energy on Dec. 1, EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy said that not all tests have been completed, but the results of two tests indicate that engines in newer cars likely can handle an ethanol blend higher than 10 percent.

If the test results remain supportive, the agency would be in a position to approve E15 for model year 2001 and newer vehicles by this summer, McCarthy said.

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