Solid Science

Editor Lisa Gibson previews the June issue, including features about corn fiber-to-ethanol pathways, low-carbon fuels legislation and a preview of the International Fuel Workshop & Expo coming up in July.
By Lisa Gibson | May 10, 2021

In writing this month’s cover story, I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge about the U.S. EPA’s inaccuracy concerns surrounding the cellulosic volume measurement methods of corn fiber-to-ethanol pathways. I learned about glucans, assays and complex analytical procedures. And it certainly cemented my childhood dream of being a scientist.

But, instead, I get to write about it. As we all know, EPA hasn’t approved a fiber-to-ethanol pathway since the end of 2017. The agency says the measurement methods aren’t accurate and overestimate the cellulose portion from starch. What I didn’t know was that National Renewable Energy Laboratory chemists evaluated the current method, identified the issue and came up with a solution. It was released earlier this year and its lead chemist awaits reactions from industry.

It’s about transparency, he says. A few labs say they have accurate cellulose-measuring methods, but they’re kept close to the hip. How can a process be polished and perfected if it’s not open to the public and thereby open to critique and improvement? That’s probably my favorite thing about science: unwavering commitment to facts and continuous improvement. (It applies in my line of work, too, but without a lab coat.)

So, sure, the method has room for improvement. But doesn’t it come down to how EPA looks at ethanol, even from starch? Wouldn’t an updated, true Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions and Energy use in Transportation (GREET) model reflect the benefits and low-carbon value of this fuel, allowing relaxation of these complex approval processes? Nick Bowdish, president of two ethanol plants, says it would. I’m inclined to agree.

I am truly fascinated by the measurement methods, EPA concerns, new method pitches and outdated GREET fundamentals in this cover story. You’ll find it on page 14.

In keeping with our theme of low-carbon fuels, I looked at state-level legislation. I had the opportunity to talk to two scientists again (I think I concealed my dorky glee and admiration), this time about their work on evaluating the effects of E30 on non-flex fuel vehicles. The study partnered the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a Nebraska state department for a year of comparisons in a state vehicle fleet.

The research could bolster the many state bills seeking to establish clean fuel standards. Check out the map of state legislation, and each bill’s progress, on page 28. The story itself starts on page 24.
Finally, we bring you the FEW Technical Sessions Planner. I’m looking forward to an in-person show this year, and I’m eager to see you all. You’ll find details about the concurrent panels, starting on page 30. This year’s agenda is packed, featuring producers, vendors, executives, technology developers, policy experts and, yes, scientists. (Is it weird to ask for autographs?)
See you there.

Stay safe and be well.

Author: Lisa Gibson