What The Recent Election Means For Ethanol

t rudnicki

By Timothy J, Rudnicki, Esq

Over the last few months the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association has been taking the political pulse.

We were keenly interested in what local candidates had to say about their support for:  (A) ethanol as used in regular gasoline and E15, (B) Minnesota’s petroleum displacement law, (C) the RFS and (D) expanding the fueling infrastructure to make more E15 and higher ethanol blends available to Minnesotans across the State. 

Our findings tell an interesting story.

The pilot project survey was broad but targeted. Survey questions and follow up telephone calls were made to those candidates having specific ethanol touch points in their districts. We examined, for instance, whether an ethanol plant, industry stakeholder, or fuel retailer (selling E15 or higher blends) were in the district and then tallied the total number of touch points for ethanol in each targeted district. All but one of the 67 Minnesota senate districts has at least one touch point such as a fuel retailer selling E15 or E85. Other senate districts have as many as 13, 18 and 21 touch points.

A district with numerous touch points might, for example, have an ethanol plant within its bounds as well as one or more ethanol fuel retailers and ancillary ethanol businesses such as an engineering company, accounting firm or fuel marketing enterprise. The threshold for this phase of the survey project required at least 10 touch points in a senate district.  While we plan to refine and expand the survey's methodology for use in the future, the results for this round are useful and instructive. 

We have identified those senate districts where House and Senate members might benefit from some additional information regarding the social, economic, consumer and environmental benefits that stem from the production and use of renewable biofuel in Minnesota. And we also have information showing us where the very strong support exists, too.

As we connect the dots for what this election means for ethanol in Minnesota, I have a couple of observations. First, the vast majority of candidates expressed strong support for ethanol indicating that ethanol is party neutral. Regardless of one’s party affiliation, the production of homegrown, renewable ethanol provides tangible benefits for Minnesotans. 

The second point is about politics and the future. We all know that petroleum has dominated the transportation fuel market for more than 100 years. And that dominance has come at a steep cost to our energy security and carbon emission budget. Therefore, the Minnesota Petroleum Displacement law and the Renewable Fuels Standard remain necessary to ensure, as a state and nation, we continue to move further down the sustainable and renewable, low carbon path. Many of our lawmakers understand the importance of these two laws and the incredible social, economic and environmental benefits that have flowed from them thus far.

There is an equally important future component at issue, too. While some see electric vehicles dominating the future transportation landscape, a July 2016 publication from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory suggests otherwise. In the “Summary of High-Octane, Mid-Level Ethanol Blends Study,” it states:

"[Automakers] are pursuing a broad portfolio of technologies to reduce CO2 emissions and improve fuel economy. Central to this effort is higher efficiency spark ignition (SI) engines, including technologies reliant on higher compression ratios and fuels with improved anti-knock properties, such as gasoline with significantly increased octane numbers. Ethanol has an inherently high octane number and would be an ideal octane booster for lower-octane petroleum blendstocks."  

The Report then goes on to cite additional studies which point to 25-40 volume percent as the range for a new high octane fuel and how it would assist in reaching the goals set forth in the RFS and to curb greenhouse gas emissions. In short, it seems the spark ignition engine, along with ethanol, could play a major role in future automobiles.

With respect to the election results and what it means for ethanol, we look forward to working with incoming House, Senate and Congressional Members. We have a fantastic story to share with them about the thousands of jobs that are supported by the ethanol industry in Minnesota, how E15 is about 10 cents less per gallon compared to regular, the billions of dollars of economic contribution from the ethanol industry and the millions of tons of greenhouse gas that can be displaced annually with ethanol. Equally important, as the auto industry retools for the high mileage, high efficiency, lower emitting spark ignition engine, so long as we work together, Minnesota will have the ethanol producers necessary to provide the high octane low carbon fuel.