In 2009, more than 5,000 Nebraskans voiced their support of E15, a 15% ethanol blend, by sending yellow postcards created by the Nebraska Corn Board to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Three years and a lot of hard work later, EPA just recently approved E15 as registered fuel, helping clear the way for E15 to be used in cars, light duty trucks and SUVs model year 2001 and newer. That's more than 120 million vehicles across the country.
"This has been a long road, filled with a lot of research, a lot of technicalities and a lot of work by many organizations that support the use of ethanol and biofuels," says Kim Clark, ag program manager of the Nebraska Corn Board. "The end goal is to increase the amount of renewable fuel available to motorists in the United States, which can help lower fuel costs and reduce our dependence on petroleum-based fuels. Today's decision by EPA is a milestone, and we are very happy to have reached it."
The approval by EPA comes at an important juncture for the ethanol industry.
The industry hit a "blend wall" in the last year since a vast majority of the fuel sold in the U.S. is already an ethanol blend, mostly E10, a 10 percent ethanol blend. "The industry has the capability to produce beyond that wall, and we need to take advantage of it, especially since we are producing ethanol for $1 per gallon less than petroleum-based gasoline right now. It's saving motorists money right now at E10 and can save even more with E15," she said.
While EPA gave its go ahead for E15, it may take some additional time before the higher blend is available at pumps in Nebraska and elsewhere. Labeling for E15 has already been approved, but fuel retailers need to have misfueling mitigation plans on file with EPA and station owners will need to decide if they want to offer the fuel. E15 is not a mandate or requirement; it is simply an option for retailers.
The Nebraska Corn Board said some fuel retailers may benefit by installing a blender pump, which will allow them to more easily offer multiple ethanol blends, including both E10 and E15, as well as E85, which is approved only for flex fuel vehicles.
"We have had a grant program over the last couple of years that helps station owners cover some of their costs in installing a blender pump," Clark says. "Station owners who are interested can contact the Nebraska Corn Board for more information."
Station owners can also go to NebraskaCorn.org and click on the "Blender Pump Info" icon on the right-hand side.