The Governors’ Ethanol Coalition (GEC) and Illinois Senator Barack Obama have joined together in calling for a more aggressive national ethanol policy, which they hope will make the fuel more available for consumer use. In early March, the group expressed its concerns about the lack of available ethanol refueling stations and requested new federal aid for building a stronger and broader fueling infrastructure. GEC Chair and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius said the limited number of E85 pumps may cause ethanol use to stalemate and that it is imperative that Congress fully fund EPAct’s stipulations for biofuels research and development.

According to the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), there are ninety-five ethanol biorefineries nationwide, which have the capacity to produce more than 4.3 billion gallons of the fuel annually. In addition, there are currently thirty-four ethanol biorefineries and eight expansions under construction, with a combined annual capacity of more than 2.1 billion gallons.

corn in silo

Ethanol typically is made from corn. Credit: DOE, NREL; Bob Allan

Some GEC members also want automobile manufacturers to commit to making flexible fuel vehicles, while others have claimed that oil companies are limiting ethanol sales by restricting the number of E85 pumps available. U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman responded that he would not support a flexible fuel mandate for automakers, but pledged to ask oil executives about the allegation concerning the restriction of ethanol pumps at refueling stations.

Joining the GEC’s efforts in pressing for more aggressive ethanol legislation, Senator Obama set forth several proposals. His goals include increasing fuel economy standards 3 percent per year over the next fifteen years; establishing the position of director of energy security, which would be part of the White House National Security Council staff; and creating an energy technology program at the U.S. Department of Defense. In addition, Senator Obama also proposed that the government pay for a portion of U.S. automakers’ expensive health care costs in order for the car companies to produce more hybrids and flexible fuel vehicles.

switchgrass for ethanol woodchips for ethanol

There has been a recent push to further develop cellulosic ethanol, made from materials such as switch grass (above left) and wood chips (above right). Credit: DOE, NREL; Warren Gretz

“None of these reforms will come easy, and they won’t happen overnight, but we can’t continue to settle for piecemeal, bite-sized solutions to our energy crisis” Senator Obama said. RFA President Bob Dinneen addressed the GEC at its annual meeting in early March and commented that the conversation about renewable fuels has drastically changed from once arguing their merits to currently debating how much of and how soon the fuels can be produced.

“The efforts of the GEC and Senator Obama are contributing substantially to that shifting debate,” Dinneen said. “Their efforts also underscore the growing support for renewable fuels sweeping across the country and across the aisle in Washington. The U.S. ethanol industry stands ready to meet the challenges ahead and welcomes the stalwart support of those like the GEC and Senator Obama.”

The GEC formed in 1991, and it currently consists of thirty-two governors and international representatives from Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Sweden, and Thailand. As stated on its Web site, the coalition’s goal is to increase the use of ethanol, decrease the nation’s dependence on foreign energy, improve the environment, and stimulate the national economy by educating the public on the benefits of ethanol, encouraging its production and use through research and market development efforts, and supporting expansion of the ethanol market by making investments in the fueling infrastructure.

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