There's an interesting new study out of Purdue University in Indiana on ethanol use. The U.S. has mandated ethanol through its Renewable Fuel Standard, which required some 13 billion gallons of it in 2010, and will insist on 36 billion gallons per year by 2022.
The problem, according to the study, is that there's no way that much ethanol can get used up. There aren't enough vehicles that can accept E85 (which will chew up rubber seals in a vehicle that isn't specifically flexible-fuel capable) and there isn't enough infrastructure to get it to the pumps.
Wally Tyner, a professor of agriculture and one of the authors of the study, says that the amount made in 2010 is just about all that the country can consume. Only some 7.3 million of the 240 million vehicles currently on American roads can run on E85. As well, there are only about 2,000 E85 pumps in the U.S., and Tyner said it took 20 years to install them. To meet the 36 billion gallon mandate, he estimates that 2,000 pumps would have to be added per year -- and right now, only about 100 are being installed annually.
As well, ethanol has another problem: it doesn't get the mileage that gasoline does. Tyner estimates that if gasoline sells for $3.00 per gallon, E85 has to be priced at $2.34 for a driver to break even on the mileage.
And if the government does go through on a decision to raise the minimum level of ethanol in gasoline from 10 to 15 percent, Tyner said that we'd hit the same wall in about four years. He believes the only way the industry can meet the mandate is through thermo-chemical biofuels, which use heat to chemically alter biomass and produce a fuel that's similar enough to gasoline that it can be blended for use in all vehicles and all gasoline pumps.
Don't you love it when a plan doesn't come together?