Let’s Give the Next Generation a Better Fuel

With a time-to-market advantage over EVs, ethanol benefits the 270 million cars on the road today while replacing benzene-based carcinogens in gas. With its low-carbon, high-octane requirement, the Next Generation Fuels Act takes ethanol higher.
By Douglas A. Durante | July 20, 2022

Depending on when you came into the ethanol industry, you might think the driving force that took us from a handful of plants in the 1970’s to the burgeoning industry of today was energy security, or environment, or as an economic engine for agriculture and rural America, or as an octane additive to protect public health.  At any given time, each was a factor that kept ethanol moving forward, but almost all of those drivers would come and go in terms of being your go-to argument.

When we were flush with domestic oil, for example, energy security became a second-tier issue, today it is back at the head of the class in light of $5 gasoline. So things change, but one constant is the fact that ethanol is a clean alternative to the toxic, carcinogenic, carbon intensive aromatic compounds currently used by refiners for octane. That was known as far back as the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 when Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and others worked in a bipartisan manner to require that ethanol would replace these aromatics.

For ethanol to continue an upward trajectory, it must assume its highest value of saving lives by replacing benzene-based carcinogens. Why the industry has not seized on that message is, quite honestly, a mystery to me.

But we have a pathway that finally looks at that—and all the issues holding ethanol back—and puts the pieces of the puzzle together, rather than fighting for one thing at a time.

The Next Generation Fuels Act (H.R. 5089) introduced by Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, is game changing legislation that has been a bit obscured by the constant battles surrounding the RFS, climate change and the blather about EVs. With more than two dozen co-sponsors and 20 companies and trade groups supporting it, this is the most comprehensive, connect-the-dots, transformational fuels legislation seen since the Clean Air Act, which established oxygen requirements propelling ethanol into the big leagues. It recognizes vehicles and fuels must be viewed as an integrated system and tackles some of the most elusive issues automakers and fuel providers have been grappling with for years.

It begins by raising the minimum octane standard, something long overdue and what the auto industry has been asking for. Higher octane fuels allow automakers to easily improve efficiency, the 98 research octane number (RON) the legislation calls for could provide a 7%-8% increase in mileage.

It requires octane to be derived from sources with a GHG reduction of 40% or more, and importantly would require a reduction in aromatics—leaving the field wide open for ethanol. And lots of it. The legislation would effectively pave the way for 20% blends, then graduating to 30%, and establish RVP relief for all blends. It requires automakers to honor warranties for those levels. The net result means more mileage, less petroleum used, less carbon emitted, and less toxic emissions, with a bonus of lower fuel costs to consumers.

So, there you have it: a true fuel for the next generation—high octane, low carbon, cleaner, lower cost and a domestic economic stimulant. With a time-to-market advantage over EVs, it can benefit the 270 million cars on the road today as well as the internal combustion vehicles that we will rely on for decades to come. EPA, the special interest environmental groups, and the oil industry cannot defend the continued use of benzene. The Next Generation Fuels Act needs the full support of the ethanol industry to realize the vision of those Clean Air Act provisions created more than 30 years ago.


Author: Douglas A. Durante
Executive Director
Clean Fuels Development Coalition
[email protected]