By Dusty Sonnenberg and Matt Reese
John Settlemyre, who farms in Warren County and serves as the current president of Ohio Corn & Wheat, was busy talking, learning about and discussing ethanol at Commodity Classic in Orlando.
Scientists are finding ways to not only enhance the ethanol but also the byproducts that are coming off of ethanol production, he said.
“One company in Houston, for example, is taking ethanol and producing ethylene which is going to be used in polyethylene plastics — a huge green source of plastics which are recycled and very important for our environment and a very valuable use for ethanol,” Settlemyre said. “Currently when we produce ethanol, we’re about 42% less greenhouse gas emissions when we use it as a fuel. When we produce ethanol, we also produce about a pound of CO2 for every pound of ethanol, so if we can capture the CO2 out of the reactor vessels and do something with it, it’s a free source of CO2. Companies are taking the CO2 and manufacturing recyclable methane or green methane which would be used for boat fuels and very innovative technologies. There is a lot of interest and optimism, so I think ethanol’s got a very bright future.”
As many are looking to electric vehicles, the technology is not feasible or practical for some applications where biofuels can continue to be a good fit.
“Airlines need energy dense fuels — they can’t do it with batteries in the air. John Deere has been talking about tractors. The average farmer runs about 14 hours a day. Their tractors average around 275 kilowatts an hour of electric use, so if you had a battery that had enough endurance to last for that 14-hour shift, that battery would weigh 48,000 pounds. That’s a lot of compaction in our fields. It’s just not feasible,” Settlemyre said. “In addition, it would add about 400% to the cost of the tractor, so instead of a $500,000 tractor you’d have a $2 million tractor. John Deere is beginning to realize the limitations of EVs. EVs certainly have a place in the cities in the short commutes where they make a lot of sense, but in these industrial applications where it takes a lot of energy, liquid fuels are really the best way for us to do that job.”
It also makes sense for consumers to use more ethanol at the pump. In the wake of staggering increases in fuel costs in recent years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed the implementation of a plan from eight Midwest governors to require lower-volatility gasoline in their states aimed at ensuring drivers in those states continue to have year-round access to fuel with 15% ethanol. However, EPA proposed to delay implementation until 2024.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine was one of the governors behind the plan. The Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association and the National Corn Growers Association supported the governors’ plan and expressed disappointment over the one-year delay in implementation and the market uncertainty the delay creates for E15 in 2023.
“Governor DeWine took action to ensure Ohioans could maintain access to low-cost, low-emissions E15,” Settlemyre said. “With EPA’s proposed delay, Ohioans could lose access to E15 this summer, removing the opportunity to save drivers money. We urge EPA to prevent that disruption and we thank Governor DeWine for his support on this important issue.”
EPA approved 15% ethanol blends, or E15, in 2011 for use in all 2001 and newer vehicles, which account for more than 96% of vehicles on the road today. Retailers have increased availability of E15, often marketed as Unleaded 88, to offer consumers choice and lower fuel costs, as well as increase the fuel supply. E15 has been sold year-round for the past 4 years, but outdated regulatory barriers continue to hinder permanent full-market access to E15.
“Ethanol is absolutely renewable fuel. It takes advantage of photosynthesis which is the ultimate recycling of CO2 in our in our society and our biology. When you burn ethanol there’s no smoke and you don’t have all this soot to deal with. We can use it with the motors that we have today so we don’t have to switch out our fleets. It immediately gives us value and savings in our environment,” he said. “There’s a new Sheetz station on Interstate 71 there at Jeffersonville at Route 41. It just opened up within the last couple months and I’ve been stopping in there. There are 10 gas bays and those are always full. You’re saving 40 cents a gallon with Unleaded 88 (15% ethanol) versus Unleaded 87. You look across the street and there’s a BP station and a Shell station. There are no notations about ethanol or cost savings and their lots are completely empty. I think Sheetz understands the market and our people are responding. Year-round unleaded 88 is very important to their marketing plan and I think it’s very important for our legislators to understand that. The EPA has pushed year-round E15 off 10 months, so we need to hold them accountable. I think it’s going to come back to an action by our governors again to reinstate E15 for this season.”