Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, has sponsored a bill that would require nearly all vehicles to run on a high blend of ethanol fuel by 2016. The Alliance of Automobile Manufactures, a group representing twelve major automakers, opposes the bill.
Currently around 8 million flex fuel vehicles are on the road in the United States (U.S.), making up about 3% of the nations fleet. Only 2% of gas stations sell the flex fuel needed to run those vehicles and are predominantly located in the Midwest. Senator Harkin’s bill would call for 90% of all vehicles in the U.S. to run on a blend of 85% ethanol fuel (E85) by the 2016 model year. Presently the majority of fuel sold at the pump in the U.S. is already a 10% ethanol blend (E10) and safe for use in all vehicles.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufactures and other opponents of Senator Harkin’s bill worry that the rapid change could be costly to consumers and that the consumer will not have immediate or easy access to the fuel needed to run the flex fuel vehicles. “Therefore, such a mandate is essentially a tax with little consumer benefit”, said Shane Karr the Vice President of Government Affairs for The Alliance of Automobile Manufactures.
A multitude of other problems exist surrounding the use of ethanol based flex fuels in vehicles. Today’s flex fuel vehicles do not meet with state emissions standards. As states such as California make efforts to increase their state emission standards active flex fuel vehicles are already falling behind the current regulations. While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently approved the use of E15 flex fuels, it is a long road before E85 flex fuel is even up for consideration by the EPA.
Separate from the environmental impact, automakers fear that the increased ethanol blends in fuels could damage the engines of vehicles (It won't. – Ed.). Automakers also raise the concern of consumer confusion at the pump surrounding what type of flex fuel is needed to properly run their specific vehicle and the potential of law suits stemming from miss fueling.
With most of the ethanol produced in the U.S being made from corn this has provided an economic stimulus to U.S. agriculture. Ethanol has also created a new market for corn which means increased farm income. However, there are certain problems with using corn to convert to ethanol since this process requires fossil fuel to make the corn in the first place.
It has been found that one acre of U.S. corn can be used to make 328 gallons of ethanol. The planting as well as growing and harvesting of that one acre of corn require nearly 140 gallons of fossil fuels being used in the needed farm equipment. The cost– $347 per acre of corn. This translates to $1.05 per gallon of ethanol being spent even before the corn leaves the farm. After the corn leaves the farm this price tag may be further increased by the refinery process of the harvested corn. The overall end cost of producing ethanol from corn works out to be more expensive than that of petrol.
America’s dependency on foreign oil has been a looming problem for decades. As gas prices reach, and is some cities exceed, $4.00 a gallon and unemployment and wage stagnation remaining high, the need for alternative fuels has taken center stage. Although corn based ethanol may not be the ideal alternative fuel source at least people, experts, and leaders are thinking about alternative fuels and trying to adapt and design for the future.
Source: The Detroit News
Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelors Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Masters Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. Being an Eagle Scout, Andrew has a passion for all things environmental. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail.