What's Ahead For Biofuels In Minnesota

t rudnicki

By Timothy J. Rudnicki, Esq

In 2015, additional new actions were taken and successfully implemented to further pave the way for greater availability and access to clean, renewable biofuels such as ethanol. These actions are important because for Minnesotans, it means greater energy independence, a stronger rural economy by using locally-grown renewable ingredients produced and processed in Minnesota, consumer savings at the fuel pump, and further reductions in climate-damaging carbon dioxide emissions. Looking ahead at the biofuels industry in Minnesota can be placed in these three categories.

Where and How Biofuels Are Produced

Lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from ethanol are up to 57 percent less than gasoline. But on top of that, Minnesota's 21st century biofuel producers have continued to make significant strides in further reducing the amount of energy and water used to make a gallon of ethanol. For example, producers are now using more energy efficient processing equipment and reusing stormwater and municipal wastewater.

In fact, another one of our plants recently announced a major modernization and expansion plan to build on the succeses of the past and maximize the best available technology for today and the future. We can expect to see more our producers undertake more innovative measures to improve efficiency in 2016 to responsibily produce a clean, low carbon fuel for Minnesota drivers.

Greater Availability of Biofuels for Consumers & Fleet Operators

In the past 18 months, we have reached out and directly engaged with 2,500 fuel retailers in the state as well as fuel retail networks in the region, which comprise some 2,700 fueling stations. Based on our findings, most fuel retailers are seeking to diversify their product offerings by replacing typical midgrade fuels with E15 - a fuel that can be used by almost all cars on the road and will be required by the next generation of fuel efficient, high-compression engines.

In 2016, we will see a significant increase in the availability of E15. Independent research has shown that 85 percent of fuel retailers already have fuel storage and dispensing components that are compantible with E15. And thanks to the vision and leadership of Gov. Mark Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature, funds were made availble to assist a few hundred fuel retailers to make minor modifications to dispense E15. This funding has now been augmented by a $8 million grant from the USDA under its Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership program. In total, this funding will enable up to 165 stations to offer blends like E15 and E85 to consumers.

Increasing the availability of E15 in the market as the new regular fuel are far reaching. We can replace millions of gallons of carbon-intensive, finite fossil fuel (including dirty tar sands oil). All vehicles 2001 and newer will immediately benefit from the higher octane and produce fewer GHG emissions.

According to Dr Steffen Mueller from the University of Illinois at Chicago, CO2 reduction in Minnesota from making E15 the new regular (on top of the amount of CO2 already eliminated from E10) would be 1.07 million metric tons annually. This, according to the EPA's greenhouse gas equivalenceis calculator, is the same as removing emissions from 225,895 vehicles from Minnesota's roads annually.

Just as consumers are asking for a cleaner fuel, so too are state fleet vehicle managers and other leaders in local government. In cooperation with these fleet managers and the Minnesota Department of Administration, for 2016, we can expect to see E15 usage increase in state fleet vehicles which will meet their GHG reduction goals.

The Future Is Today

In the last few days, I read news that a major vehicle manufacturer has produced a non-flex fuel vehicle that is approved to use up to E25. We plan to further investigate details of this vehicle and its engine and will report our findings back to you soon. But on its fact, this news is very promising as it confirms what we've heard for years : new fuel efficient, high-compression and low emission engines perfom the best with fuels with higher ethanol content.

To sum up, the Minnesota biofuels industry is delivering on many fronts - energy security, economic, consumer and environmental benefits - and is positioned to do more in 2016. This broad scope of benefits will grow and expand to further serve all Minnesotans as more biofuels will displace a greater amount of fossil fuels and reduce even more GHG emissions. For the vast majority of people who continue to rely on vehicles with an internal combustion engine, ethanol will continue to be the biggest factor in reducing harmful emissions.  

Thank you for your support in 2015 and we look forward to your continued involvement in 2016.

Happy New Year!