More distribution, open new markets key to growing ethanol use, Vilsack says

Ag secretary addresses rumors that usage mandates may be scaled back

James Q. Lynch
Published: November 8 2013 | 3:24 pm - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 11:13 pm in

Amid rumors that the Environmental Protection Agency will scale back legal requirements on the use of ethanol next year, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said there should be less focus on the numbers and more attention to developing new strategies to expand the biofuels market.

Part of that strategy, the former Iowa governor said during taping of Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, which will air at 7:30 p.m. tonight and at noon Sunday, must be a plan to combat the oil industry’s efforts to discourage ethanol use.

“The oil industry has done a very good job of making it very difficult to expand ethanol use in this country by discouraging people from using E15 and not providing opportunities to access E85 for flexible fuel vehicles,” Vilsack said in response to a question about the likelihood the EPA will cut the renewable fuel standard (RFS).

He explained that although there are between 9 and 10 million flexible fuel vehicles in the U.S., it’s hard to find an E85 station selling a blend of gasoline and 85 percent ethanol.

So the USDA developed Renewable Energy for America Program to provide resources to put more blender pumps in gas stations because a key to biofuels’ success is simply making it available on a widespread basis.

“And that is the problem,’ Vilsack said. “It’s available in Iowa but it’s not available in a lot of other states and it needs to be.”

Another factor to keep in mind, Vilsack said, the RFS is predicated on Americans increasing their consumption of gasoline.

“The reality is with fuel efficient vehicles we’re consuming less,” Vilsack said.

He is encouraging biofuels producers to expand into aviation and marine fuel markets. The goal of USDA’s farm-to-fly initiative is to create a billion gallons of aviation fuel for commercial aviation interests. That’s an easier market to deal with because about 40 airports consume 90 percent of all aviation fuel.

“So if you can distribute biofuels to those 40 airports you’ve got a ready-made market,” Vilsack said. Commercial aviation needs cleaner-burning biofuels to meet international emission standards for greenhouse gases, he added.

Taking the long view, Vilsack said that regardless of where the EPA sets the RFS there must be a continued commitment to that Renewable Fuel Standard as well as a “much-accelerated pace” in developing advanced biofuels.

Iowa Press also can be seen at 8:30 a.m. Saturday on IPTV World and at www.iptv.org beginning tonight.

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