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New EPA Fuel, Emission Standards A Benefit for Ethanol

National Corn Growers Association says more stringent emissions standards create a place for ethanol's higher octane levels to shine

Published on: Apr 8, 2013

Following the Environmental Protection Agency's big rollout of its Tier 3 air pollution from motor vehicles standards in late March, the National Corn Growers Association says the changes might do ethanol some good.

The tier 3 standards increase the level of stringency with which vehicle emissions are regulated with the goal of decreasing air pollution. While these more stringent regulations on sulfur, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter may ultimately improve air quality, they also represent an opportunity to increase ethanol use, NCGA says.

"While no one is sure at this point of every implication and ramification of the Tier 3 recommendations, farmers have always understood the importance of clean air, clean land and clean water," said NCGA Ethanol Committee Chair Chad Willis. "We hope that … the renewable, sustainable nature of this domestically-produced fuel is not overlooked."

National Corn Growers Association says more stringent emissions standards create a place for ethanols higher octane levels to shine
National Corn Growers Association says more stringent emissions standards create a place for ethanol's higher octane levels to shine

Specifically, the proposal calls for changes to the amount of sulfur in gasoline, dropping it from 30 to 10 parts per million. The standards also decrease the amount of nitrogen oxide and particulate matter considered acceptable from vehicle emissions.

The proposed rule also outlines changing the certification fuel – what automobile manufacturers use to certify car emissions – from one without ethanol to one containing ethanol. Currently, about 95% of today's fuel contains 10% ethanol.

Through its analysis, EPA calculates the new Tier 3 regulations will cost the refining industry less than one cent per gallon. Since removing sulfur during the petroleum refining process destroys octane components, new and/or modified processes will be needed for the industry to meet these standards. As ethanol provides octane to the fuel, it offers a solution that would provide octane through inclusion of an option that is already available.

EPA is also open to requests from automakers to consider an alternative certification fuel containing a mid-level blend of ethanol. This would allow the move from flexible-fuel vehicles to vehicles with engines optimized to take advantage of the octane provided by ethanol, which could satisfy EPA's call for more fuel efficient engines in the proposed rule, NCGA says.