The worst may be over for the ethanol industry as production in Minnesota and other parts of the country begin to approach pre-pandemic numbers. But it would be a mistake for anyone to believe the industry is back on a sound footing.
When traffic volumes plunged in April and May, ethanol production throughout the country fell to unforeseen levels with many plants idling production while others reduced output by 50 percent.
That is why it is imperative for the Senate to include the financial aid package for the ethanol industry that was introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley and Sen. Amy Klobuchar in the next COVID-19 relief bill.
While this aid package is much needed for the short-term to stabilize the industry in this turbulent time, there are several measures that can be adopted at the state level to rebuild and regrow the ethanol industry for the medium and long-term.
Moreover, these measures would grow the economy, retain jobs in the ethanol industry and significantly cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the transportation sector.
One way is to boost the use of E15. State vehicle fleets should be able to have access to, and use, E15 and E85. As more fleets use E15 and E85, these renewable fuels will gain even greater acceptance and become the new standards.
The second measure is focused on the use mid-level blends in non-flex fuel vehicles. The Walz Administration could set up a task force to identify the next steps to obtain data required by the EPA to certify a mid-level blend fuel for use in non-flex fuel vehicles and obtain certification.
Biofuel infrastructure should also be a high priority to give Minnesotans greater access to renewable fuels. This can be done through creative funding options to help fuel retailers transition to E15 and higher blends. With 370 fuel retailers in the state already offering E15, we should focus on bringing another 290 retailers online.
With 660 fuel retailers offering E15 and higher blends, we will reach critical mass and help E15 become the new standard in Minnesota.
Another medium to longer term project would be a clean fuels policy. If such a policy were properly designed to account for the GHG value of ethanol and technology improvements made at ethanol plants, the policy would amplify the benefits of ethanol compared to petroleum. This could provide a huge catalyst for the petroleum industry in Minnesota to use E15 as the new regular fuel.
Another measure would be to use the Clean Cars Minnesota rulemaking process to stimulate automakers to offer a variety of Low Emission Vehicles (LEVs) powered with ethanol.
This vehicle rule gives us an opportunity to advocate for flex fuel, hybrid flex fuel and plug-in hybrid flex fuel as well as evolving technologies that can use E100. Success with this initiative will ensure future vehicles are compatible with E15 and higher blends.
All these measures will serve to fulfill a vision wherein Minnesota’s transportation sector is powered with increasing amounts of a homegrown renewable fuel and the energy dollars now used to import petroleum are kept in Minnesota, and the GHG emissions from the transportation sector are more rapidly reduced.