Hey Nebraskans, 1 in 10 of you drives a flex-fuel vehicle

Nebraska is the nation’s third-leading corn producer (behind Iowa and Illinois), and it’s also fertile ground for the ethanol industry.

As the state Department of Agriculture notes, Nebraska has 25 operating ethanol plants that produce more than 1.2 billion gallons of ethanol a year. These operations employ about 3,000 people.

So it’s no surprise that Nebraskans are ahead of much of the nation when it comes to adopting ethanol as a transportation fuel. There are 67 stations in the state where E85 (a blend of up to 85 percent ethanol and the rest traditional gasoline) is available, according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center.

About 10 percent of Nebraskans drive a vehicle that is branded flex-fuel, with the tell-tale badge on the rear or a yellow gas cap, meaning it can run any ethanol concentration (including E85) or gasoline or any blend of the two. The benefits of running E85 in a flex-fuel vehicle are numerous: It’s often cheaper than regular gas, even when you account for the roughly 30 percent reduction in fuel economy compared with gas; ethanol produces less toxic pollutants that harm health, and fewer greenhouse-gas emissions that harm the environment. The vehicle’s engine also has more power and better performance on ethanol.

In a story in the Grand Island Independent by Robert Pore this week, Gov. Dave Heineman encouraged Nebraskans who own flex-fuel vehicles to support the state’s ethanol industry, and take advantage of a renewable resource grown locally, by filling up with E85. “E85 continues to gain popularity across our state and country – allowing us to continue to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” Heineman said.

Nebraskans will have the opportunity to learn more about ethanol and other replacement fuels during a free screening of the Fuel Freedom Foundation-produced documentary “PUMP” on Nov. 12 on the University of Nebraska campus in Lincoln. The film will be shown at 7 p.m. at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, 313 N. 13th Street. As this calendar notice on the Lincoln Journal Star website notes, the screening will be hosted by the Nebraska Ethanol Board, the Urban Air Initiative and the Association of Nebraska Ethanol Producers. After the film, Doug Durante, executive director of the Clean Fuels Development Coalition, will lead a brief panel discussion and take questions from the audience.

“PUMP” is playing in theaters in several other cities, including Anchorage and Tucson. Visit PUMPTheMovie.com for more information.

Colorado’s great divide: oil and the environment

Take off from Aspen’s tiny airport and head straight west, and you’ll soon find yourself over an area known as the Thompson Divide – 221,500 acres of what Teddy Roosevelt described as “great, wild country… where the mountains crowded together in chain, peak, and tableland; all of the higher ones wrapped in a shroud of snow.” This time of year, the leaves change from green to yellow to red.

Read more at: Vice

From Philosophy About Truth To The Wisdom Of EPA Models About Emissions

Rereading Alfred North Whitehead, one of my favorite philosophers, provides the context for the current debate over the wisdom of using the EPA’s amended transportation emissions model (Motor Vehicle Emission Simulator, or MOVES) for state-by-state analysis. He once indicated that, “There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil.”

I am uncertain about Whitehead’s skepticism, if treated as an absolute. However, it does give pause when judging the use of an amended MOVES model, based mostly on advocacy research by the nonprofit group, the Coordinating Research Council (CRC). The CRC is funded by the oil industry, through the American Petroleum Institute (API), and auto manufacturers.

CRC was tasked by the EPA with amending MOVES and applying it to measure and determine the impact of vehicular emissions. The model and related CRC analysis was subject to comments in the Federal Register but the structure of the Register mutes easy dialogue over tough, but important, methodological disagreements among experts. Apparently, no refereed panel subjected the CRC’s process or product to critique before the EPA granted both its imperator and sent it out to the states for their use.

I am concerned that if the critics are correct, premature statewide use of the amended MOVES model will mistakenly impede development and use of alternative transitional fuels to replace gasoline, particularly ethanol, and negatively influence related federal, state and local policies and programs concerning the same. If this occurs, because of apparent mistakes in the model (and the data plugged into it), the road to significant use of renewable fuels in the future will be paved with higher costs for consumers, higher levels of pollutants and higher GHG emissions.

With some exceptions, the EPA has been a strong supporter of unbiased, nonpartisan research. Gina McCarthy, its present leader, is an outstanding administrator, like many of her predecessors, like Douglas Costle (I am proud to say that Doug worked with me on urban policy, way, way back in the sixties), Russell Train, Carol Browner, William Reilly, Christine Todd Whitman, Bill Ruckelshaus and Lee Thomas. No axes to grind; no ideological or client bias…only a commitment to help improve the environment for the American people. I feel comfortable that she will listen to the critics of MOVES.

The amended MOVES may well be the best thing since the invention of Swiss cheese. It could well help the nation, its states and its citizens determine the truths or even half-truths (that acknowledge uncertainties) related to gasoline use and alternative replacement fuels. But why the hurry in making it the gold standard for emission and pollutant analysis at the state or, indeed, the federal level, in light of some of the perceived methodological and participatory problems?

Some history! Relatively recently, the EPA correctly criticized CRC because of its uneven (at best) analytical approach to reviewing the effect of E15 on car engines. Paraphrasing the EPA’s conclusions, the published CRC study reflected a bad sample as well as too small a sample. Its findings, indicating that E15 had an almost uniform negative impact on internal combustion engines didn’t comport with facts.

The CRC’s study of E15 was, pure and simple, advocacy research. CRC reports generally reflect the views of its oil and auto industry funders and results can be predicted early on before their analytical efforts are completed. Some of its reports are better than others. But overall, it is not known for independent unbiased research.

The EPA’s desire for stakeholder involvement in up grading and use of MOVES to measure emissions is laudable. However it seems that the CRC was the primary stakeholder involved on a sustained basis in the effort. No representatives of the replacement fuel industry, no nonpartisan independent nonprofit think tanks, no government-sponsored research groups and no business or environmental advocacy groups were apparently included in the effort. Given the cast of characters (or the lack thereof) in the MOVES’ update, there’s little wonder that the CRC’s approach and subsequently the EPA’s efforts to encourage states to use the amended model have been and, I bet, will be heavily criticized in the months ahead.

Two major, well-respected national energy and environmental organizations, Energy Future Coalition (EFC) and Urban Air Initiative, have asked the EPA to immediately suspend the use of the MOVES with respect to ethanol blends. Both want the CRC/MOVES study and model to be peer reviewed by experts at Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL), and the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). I would add the Argonne National Laboratory because of its role in administering GREET, The Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation Model. Further, both implicitly argue that Congress should not use the CRC study and MOVES until the data and methodological issues are fixed. Indeed, before policy concerning the use of alternative replacement fuels is debated by the administration, Congress and the states both appear to want to be certain that MOVES is able to provide reasonably accurate estimates of emissions and market-related measurements, particularly with respect to ethanol and, as Whitehead would probably say, at least provide half-truths, or, as Dragnet’s Detective Jack Webb often said, “Just the facts, ma’am,” or at least just the half-truths, nothing but at least the half-truths.

What are the key issues upsetting the critics like the EFC and the Urban Air Initiative? Apart from the pedigree of the CRC and the de minimis roles granted other stakeholders than the oil industry, the CRC/MOVES model, reflects match blending instead of splash blending to develop ethanol/gasoline blends. Sounds like two different recipes with different products — and it is. Splash blending is used in most vehicles in the U.S. and generally is perceived as producing less pollution.

Let’s skip the precise formula. It’s complicated and more than you want to know. Just know that according to the letter sent to the EPA by the EFC and Urban Air Quality on Oct. 20th, the use of match blending requires higher boiling points for distillation, and these points, in turn are generally the worst polluting aromatic parts of gasoline. It noted that match blending, as prescribed by the MOVES, results in blaming ethanol for increased emissions rather than the base fuel. There is no regulatory, mechanical or health justification for adding high boiling point hydrocarbons to test fuels for purposes of measuring changes in vehicle tailpipe emissions, when ethanol is part of the fuel mixture. Independent investigations by automakers and other fuel experts confirm that the use of match blending in the study mistakenly attributed increased emission levels to ethanol rather than to the addition of aromatics and other high boiling hydrocarbons, thereby significantly distorting the model’s emission results. A peer-reviewed analysis, which will be published shortly, found that the degradation of emissions which can result is primarily due to the added hydrocarbons, but has often been incorrectly attributed to the ethanol.

The policy issues involved due to the methodological errors are significant. If states and other government entities, as well as fuel supply chain participants, use the model in its present form, they will mistakenly believe that ethanol’s emissions and pollutants are higher than reported in study after study over the past decade. The reported results will be just plain wrong. They will not even be half-truths, but zero truths. Distortions in decision making concerning the wisdom of alternative transitional replacement fuels, particularly ethanol, will occur and generate weaker ethanol markets and opportunities to build a strategic path to renewables. The EPA, rather than encourage use of the study and the model, should pull both back and suggest waiting until refereed review panels finish their work.

Biofuels from woody plants and grasses instead of the corn and sugarcane

Scientists are using biotechnology to chip away at barriers to producing biofuels from woody plants and grasses instead of the corn and sugarcane used to make ethanol. NC State’s Forest Biotechnology Group, which has been responsible for several research milestones published this year, summed up research progress and challenges for a special issue of the Plant Biotechnology Journal.

Read more at: Phys

Image rights: Phys.org

Hollander: Oil is a ‘burden for the American people’

Fuel Freedom co-founder and Chairman Yossie Hollander guided PUMP the movie to a successful weekend in Atlanta, hosting two Q&As after Friday night’s and Saturday night’s showings at the historic Plaza Theatre.

He also promoted the film and its message on radio, appearing on both WMLB-AM1690 (“The Voice of the Arts”) and its sister station, WCFO-AM1160 (“The Talk of the Town”). You can listen to the first interview below:

During the segment, Hollander was asked how he got involved with PUMP, a project more than two years in the making.

He answered: “We realized long ago that oil is one of the toughest problems we have. We are funding our enemies, but it’s mainly a burden for the American people. It’s the air we breathe. The brown cloud you see above Atlanta is not from coal, it’s from oil.

“And mostly it’s the burden on our pockets. Families really suffer, and we figured out this is the biggest problem that we can solve. If we can do it with cheaper American fuels, we can actually change America.”

Here’s the second interview, on WCFO, which aired Saturday and Sunday:

PUMP premiered in September and continues to play in theaters around the country. This week it debuts in Tucson, Anchorage and Brunswick, Maine. Visit PumpTheMovie.com for theaters and times, and to buy tickets.

Breaking Energy: Kansas ethanol plant a big win in RFS equation

While the debate rages about what the threshold for biofuels should be in the government’s next (and long-delayed) Renewable Fuel Standard, Breaking Energy’s Jared Anderson has a timely post about the makeup of the current RFS, as it was proposed by the EPA last November.

There are thresholds within the larger thresholds, and it looks like the cellulosic ethanol target will go down. But as Anderson notes:

“While the battle over the RFS continues, the cellulosic ethanol industry took a major step forward today with the inauguration of a commercial-scale plant in Hugoton, Kansas. The biorefinery has the capacity to produce 25 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year, which alone exceeds EPA’s proposed 17 mm gallon blending target under RFS. The plant also generates 25 MW of electricity, which supplies its own needs and provides excess power to the local community.”

Anderson signs off with:

“The RFS will remain controversial, but this new plant is a big win for the cellulosic ethanol portion of the equation.”

(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Motor Club members have reported no problems with E15

Four years after the EPA approved E15 for use in cars and light trucks model 2001 and newer, members of the Travelers Motor Club and Association Motor Club Marketing have reported no problems as a result of using E15, said Gene Hammond and Mark Muncey, co-owners of these organizations. In a press conference hosted by the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) this morning, Hammond and Muncey said that they support E-15 (15 percent ethanol and 85 percent petroleum in motor gasoline).

Read more at: Farm Industry News

Image property of: Wikimedia

Federal court orders DOT to respond to Sierra Club’s unsafe tank-car lawsuit

A Federal court has ordered the Department of Transportation to respond to a lawsuit filed by three environmental organizations — Earthjustice, the Sierra Club and ForestEthics — in which the parties asked the court to order DOT to respond to the organizations’ request for an emergency order banning the use of DOT-111 tanks cars for the shipment of crude oil by rail. Read more at: Breaking Energy

Yet more evidence that air pollution harms health

Research announced this week at the University of Pittsburgh is only the latest to suggest a link between air pollution and a higher risk of children developing autism.

Motor vehicles – cars, trucks and SUVs – account for about half the air pollution in the United States, the EPA says, with much of the rest coming from industrial sources and coal-fired power plants.

Smog levels are much worse in urban areas than rural ones: According to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2014 report, 47 percent of the nation — 147.6 million people — live in places where pollution levels make it dangerous to breathe.

Air toxics, as they’re called, can contribute to asthma and other respiratory problems; heart disease. Experts think that these toxics can have a particularly devastating impact on babies when they’re in the womb, and when the children are very young.

Although much of the science on these effects has only been conducted in the past decade, a 2008 report at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability says: “Recently this research has begun to focus on one specific source of modern-day air pollution – traffic exhaust.”

The study, led by Dr. Beate Ritz, goes on:

“These studies largely focused on potential mortality impacts of airborne particulate matter small enough to penetrate into the human respiratory tract, referred to as PM10 (particulate matter less than 10 microns in aerodynamic diameter) and more recently have examined PM2.5, even smaller size particles which can penetrate deep into the lung. Most findings from this research indicated infants living in areas with high levels of these types of particulate matter had a greater risk of mortality during the first year of life, particularly from respiratory causes.”

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a neurological disorder whose symptoms can range from having trouble fitting in with peers to repetitive behaviors to a complete lack of communication and even seizures, now affects an estimated 1 in every 68 U.S. children, a 30 percent increase since 2012. Little is still known about the causes, but many experts believe genetics or environmental exposures, or a combination, are to blame.

The University of Pittsburgh report, led by a health professor of epidemiology named Evelyn Talbott, found that children who were somewhere on the autism spectrum were 1.4 to 2 times as likely to have been exposed to air pollution during their mothers’ pregnancies, compared with children who did not have an ASD. The affected children showed higher levels of styrene, cyanide and chromium.

Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a UC Davis researcher not affiliated with the Pitt study, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that this and other studies like it “do suggest some kind of a link where a family who has children with autism were living usually closer to areas with higher [air toxic] measurements.”

In Utah, where some regions have very poor air quality in wintertime, the incidence of autism is 1 in 47 children, far higher than the national average. Earlier this year, a Harvard study showed that “exposure in the womb to diesel, lead, manganese, mercury, methylene chloride and an overall measure of metals was ‘significantly associated with autism spectrum disorder,’ with the highest association from exposure to diesel exhaust,” according to a story in the Provo Herald Extra.

Given the significant adverse health effects that result from gasoline when it’s combusted inside engines, it makes sense to incorporate cleaner-burning fuels into the nation’s fleet of vehicles. The EPA says as much, saying replacement fuels, including “natural gas, propane, methanol, ethanol, electricity, and biodiesel” can be ” cleaner than gasoline or diesel and can reduce emissions of harmful pollutants.”

(Photo: Los Angeles air, via Shutterstock)