Issue: Mar 2011

Pathway to Meeting RFS2 Requires Evolution of Refueling Infrastructure and Automotive Fleet

by Jon Knox

The future requirements of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS2) can be met primarily with ethanol if the right commitments are made to ensure a steady evolution of refueling infrastructure and the automotive fleet, according to a new report released today by the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).

A new study conducted by Air Improvement Resource, Inc. (AIR) and commissioned by the RFA shows that the long-term requirements of the RFS2 can indeed be met mostly with ethanol if “blender pumps” are made available at approximately one-third of nation’s 162,000 service stations, and if automakers honor and expand their commitment to produce more Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs). Blender pumps are fuel dispensers designed to dispense a variety of ethanol blends from 10% up to 85% ethanol. FFVs are light duty vehicles capable of operating on any combination of gasoline and ethanol up to 85% ethanol.

“Achieving the goals of the RFS2 and giving Americans more control over their energy future can be done with smart policies and targeted investment that expand ethanol refueling infrastructure and use,” said RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen. “In a climate of fiscal concerns, this report demonstrates that we can meaningfully expand the ethanol market, reduce our reliance on imported oil, and create jobs without breaking the bank. Addressing the infrastructure needs of America’s renewable fuels policy cannot be based on a wish list. It must be grounded in sound research and analysis that identifies policy needs and the needs of the marketplace. This report clearly highlights part of the path forward.”

The AIR study examines 27 future scenarios regarding available ethanol volumes, FFV availability, ethanol use in non-FFVs, and the availability and location of blender pumps and/or E85 pumps. Based on the results of the scenarios, certain conclusions can be drawn about the role ethanol can play in meeting the RFS2, which ultimately requires the use of 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022.

Expanding the use of ethanol will take a multi-pronged approach. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent approval of E15 (a blend of 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline) for use in vehicles made in 2001 and subsequent years will help grow the potential market for ethanol to approximately 20 billion gallons over the next several years. Still, even if E15 is eventually used in all conventional vehicles, meeting long term RFS2 requirements with ethanol will necessitate a substantial increase in the availability and use of “mid-level” ethanol blends (i.e., blends consisting of more than 15% ethanol and less than 85% gasoline).

If all light-duty vehicles sold in the United States in 2015 and later years are FFVs, and if a corresponding expansion of refueling infrastructure occurs, ethanol could be used to meet the majority of the long-term RFS2 requirements. Under this scenario, the average ethanol blend needed in FFVs by 2022 would be nearly 30% (E30), while it is assumed all non-FFVs would be using E15.

The AIR report provided some key insights into the infrastructure and vehicle needs to make the RFS2 successful, including:

• Long term RFS2 requirements can be achieved largely with ethanol if automakers honor and expand their commitments to ramp up production of FFVs, and if blender pumps are installed at roughly one-third of the nation’s retail service stations.

• Even if E15 is eventually used in all conventional vehicles (non-FFVs), meeting long term RFS2 requirements with ethanol will necessitate a substantial increase in the availability and use of “mid-level” ethanol blends.

• Without the commitment of the “Detroit Three” automakers to ensure that 50% of the vehicles they produce in 2012 and subsequent years are FFVs, it would not be possible to meet long term RFS2 requirements using mostly ethanol.

• Even with the 50% FFV production commitment by the “Detroit Three,” FFVs would need to refuel with E85 essentially three-quarters of the time or E56 all of the time by 2022. This highlights the need for an expanded commitment to FFV production from all automakers.

• If all vehicles sold in 2015 and subsequent years are FFVs, and if E15 is used in all non-FFVs, the average fuel blend consumed in FFVs will need to contain 29% ethanol by volume (E29) in order to satisfy the 2022 RFS2 requirements with mostly ethanol. Incidentally, E30 is one of the most common and popular blends dispensed from blender pumps today.

• If the RFS2 is to be met predominantly with ethanol, blender pumps will need to be installed at a minimum of 53,000 service stations. This represents roughly 33% of service stations in the country. Efforts to install blender pumps should focus on areas with the highest levels of vehicle miles traveled per service station.

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