Food Service & Agriculture, Government, and Sustainability

Farmers await ethanol increase decision

An increase to E15 year-round would minimize state’s corn surplus.

May 18, 2018
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Ethanol
Proponents argue increasing the mix of ethanol will create a “cleaner” fuel for motorists. Courtesy Mitch Miller

President Donald Trump is considering increasing the amount of ethanol in gasoline.

Sen. Chuck Grassley tweeted there is a potential of ethanol increasing from 10 percent (E10) to 15 percent (E15) blend of ethanol and 85 percent of gasoline year-round following a White House meeting May 8.

According to Mitch Miller, CEO of Carbon Green Bioenergy plant in Lake Odessa, the ethanol industry is pursuing a Reid vapor pressure waiver, a one-pound waiver, for E15 in the Clean Air Act (CAA) from the Environmental Protection Agency all year.

The Environmental Protection Agency bans E15 from June 1-Sept. 15 in certain regions of the country. Ethanol can be used in cars built after 2001 in unattainable regions or areas where the CAA monitors pollutants all year, Miller said, but in other areas, it is banned throughout the summer.

Miller said the reason it is prohibited is that the vapor pressure does not decrease. As a result, it does not meet the vaporized pressure requirement for the summer time. He said he believes the E15 one-pound waiver will not only help to meet the standard, but it is “cleaner fuel and a lower vapor pressure than the E10.”

In addition to the quest to get a year-round E15 waiver, car manufacturers have changed the way they are building their cars to allow more ethanol to fuel cars, said Denny Heffron, owner of Heffron Farms in Belding.

“Now, plastics that are in cars will not be affected by ethanol (E15),” Heffron said. “Ethanol used to be hard on plastics, so old engines weren't able to run on ethanol because it deteriorated the plastic — the plastic gas lines, the plastic hoses — anything that was plastic, but now it changed.”

That is music to the ears of farmers because with the increase of ethanol comes the increase of bushels of corn being sold to ethanol plants across the state. The increase in sales will generate more money for farmers, and it will minimize the surplus of corn growing in the state.

Heffron said the state had 2.5 billion bushels of corn carried over from last year.

“It will create a little bit of demand,” Heffron said. “A little bit helps a lot. It will not hurt; it will help take care of some of the surpluses.”

In addition to curving the surplus of corn, Jim Zook, executive director of the Michigan Corn Growers Association, said the increase in ethanol will reduce the U.S. dependency on foreign oil, improve the quality of the air that we breathe and recruit more farm workers.

Miller said at his ethanol plant, they grind 20 million bushels of corn all from Michigan farms per year.

“We buy corn from 650 family farms in Michigan,” Miller said. “We produce 60 million gallons of ethanol per year and 1,040 tons of dry distillers grain.”

One of the biggest misconceptions of corn being used to make ethanol is that once the corn is sent to an ethanol plant, there is no byproduct, Heffron said.

He said ethanol plants use the starch from the corn and then farmers use the byproduct, like the oils and protein, which is the dry distillers grain.

“The dry distillers grains goes back to farmers and is used as livestock feeds,” Heffron said. “It is high in protein, it’s high in energy, it is a wonderful feed. The chicken farmers that we sell to, they use it. The hogs guys we sell to, they use it. The dairy guys, they use it. The beef guys we sell to, they use it. So, that is one more product we are getting out of the corn.”

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