New Ethanol Law Passed in Iowa on Tuesday

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Josie Taylor | May 19, 2022

A new state law in Iowa would require most fuel stations to sell a gasoline blend with 15% ethanol. This will rapidly expand the fuel’s availability, but the law’s long-term effects might be more potent, according to the executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed House File 2128, which will boost the use of corn-based ethanol to fuel the state’s vehicles, into law on Tuesday. Her action capped a protracted and hard-fought legislative initiative that began last year.

The new law is also expected to boost the sales of diesel blends that contain 20% biodiesel, which is often made with soybean oil.

Monte Shaw, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association’s executive director, predicts that E15 will be available at 1,000 more stations by 2026, when the ethanol requirement goes into effect. That would more than quadruple the current total, according to state data.

First, the law also requires new fuel station infrastructure — the tanks, fuel lines and pumps — to be compatible with higher blends of ethanol, which can degrade certain plastics and rubbers. That will help facilitate future increases in blend requirements, perhaps with gasoline blends of 30% or 40% ethanol, Shaw said.There are current federal rules that prohibit the summer sales of certain E15 blends because federal regulators have considered them more likely to evaporate in warmer temperatures and pollute the air. The Biden administration lifted that restriction for this summer to help reduce fuel prices.

EPA creates waiver for E15 fuel sale in in May

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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 6, 2022

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a fuel waiver last week allowing heightened levels of ethanol in gasoline to be sold later into the summer.

The waiver is an attempt by the Biden-Harris administration to lower fuel prices as they continue to increase. The waiver allows gas stations to sell cheaper blends with 15 percent ethanol, also known as E15 fuel, to address the fuel supply gaps created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The waiver only extends until May 20, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch, but the EPA can extend the waiver if they see fit.

The waiver affects a small percentage of gas stations across the country that sell corn-based ethanol fuel. Only 2,300 gas stations nationwide offer a 15 percent ethanol blend, compared to the more than 140,000 gas stations across the U.S.

During a stop in Iowa in April, President Joe Biden said the waiver would continue into the summer. There are not any current projections as to when the waiver would be extended nor for how long. Iowa’s delegation in Washington D.C. have pushed for year-round use of E15. Currently, the fuel cannot be sold from June to September because of air pollution concerns.

Ethanol Bill Passes in the Iowa House and Senate

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Josie Taylor | April 28, 2022

Legislation that would require most Iowa gas stations to sell higher ethanol blends passed both the Iowa House and Senate on Tuesday. 

The bill, House File 2128, received bipartisan support in both chambers, passing 42-3 in the Senate and 78-13 in the House. It is expected that Gov. Kim Reynolds will sign it into law. Reynolds told reporters Tuesday morning that the bill would “sustain and grow” the ethanol industry while helping consumers. 

The bill requires most Iowa gas stations to begin offering 15% ethanol blended fuel (E15) in 2026. The final version of the proposal includes a waiver for Iowa’s smallest gas stations, and state grants to help upgrade infrastructure to support E15. As fueling stations expand and install new tanks, those have to be E15-compatible.

Some Senate Democrats raised concerns about the legislation, arguing it would be a “mandate” and may clash with federal law. 

President Joe Biden visited Iowa earlier this month to announce the temporary summertime sale of E15. Under federal law, E15 may not normally be sold from June to September due to pollution concerns. Reynolds said Iowa was pushing to change the federal law, especially as more gas stations will sell the higher blend.

Iowa delegation looks to biofuels to replace Russian oil

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Eleanor Hildebrandt | March 11, 2022

As gas prices increase because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Iowa’s two U.S. senators are promoting biofuels to replace imported Russian oil.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst both agree with President Joe Biden’s ban on imports of Russian oil and natural gas, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The two joined a bipartisan group of Midwestern senators who support the Home Front Independence Act. The legislation looks to increase ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply. The bill focuses on making E15, a fuel that contains 15 percent ethanol instead of the traditional 10 percent, more accessible and widely available.

Russian oil amounts for three percent of the U.S.’s imported oil. Ernst said she believes ethanol production from Midwestern states is sufficient to make up the single-digit percent the country is losing from Russia. Executive Director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Monte Shaw agreed with Ernst, saying there is sufficient ethanol production currently.

“Today, there’s anywhere from 2.5 to 3 billion gallons of ethanol production capacity that’s sitting there ready to roll,” Shaw said. “It’s just not being used because the demand’s not there.”

The Iowa bill looking to switch from E10 to E15 blends in the state garnered support earlier in the 2022 Legislative session, but it has since stalled in the Senate. Last year, the legislation did not pass in the Iowa statehouse. It is unclear how long it would take to switch ethanol production from one blend to the other in Iowa and other states.

Fuel stations want more funding for E15 requirements

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Simone Garza | February 17, 2022

Fuel stations may need additional financial support for proposed new requirements of all gas stations to sell a gasoline blend with 15 percent ethanol.

E15 fuel is a budget-friendly combination of 85 percent gasoline and 15 percent ethanol that burns cleaner than gasoline. The impact of advocating for E15 fuel at Iowa gas pumps is to reduce emissions from gas vehicles which would reduce cases of asthma and respiratory illnesses. Ethanol also lowers greenhouse gas emissions between 40 to 50 percent in contrast to petroleum.

Iowa House File 2128 was proposed earlier in the 2022 Legislative session, focusing on putting an E15 option at all fuel stations in the state. Iowa Democrats and Republicans have voiced support for the legislation in recent weeks, including the bill receiving unanimous support from a Senate agriculture subcommittee last week. 

The current proposal will provide approximately $50,000 for stores that need to upgrade both pumps and tanks to allow higher concentrations of ethanol, which can break down specific rubbers and plastics. The bill states if costs to a fuel station business exceeds $72,000, the business will be exempt from the legislation. Some gas station owners, however, are still concerned about going out of business according to the Dispatch. 

Glenn Hasken, chief operating officer of Molo Companies in Dubuque, told Iowa Capital Dispatch that he believes the state should offer up to $200,000 for store upgrades because the current bill is not palatable to small operators.

A January 2022 study of Iowa’s ethanol use said the switch from 10 percent ethanol to 15 percent within the state would generate up to $73 million of new yearly revenue.

Casey’s General Store lobbyist Tom Cope has previously opposed the legislation, but would support the legislation if more funds were offered to businesses. Cope is also working to broaden the waiver for old tanks that cannot conform to E15 fuels. 

Iowa Senate to vote on E15 legislation following bipartisan support

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Eleanor Hildebrandt | February 9, 2022

The Iowa Senate is preparing for a potential final vote on a proposed bill that would require fueling stations in the state to sell 15 percent ethanol gasoline blends.

House File 2128 received support from Democrats and Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate in the past few weeks. It received unanimous support from the Senate agriculture subcommittee on Tuesday, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The legislation originally came from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and there have been similar proposals in recent years at the statehouse. The bill would require at least half the pumps at fueling stations in Iowa to offer 15% ethanol blends, commonly known as E15 fuel, with some exceptions and funding to replace tanks that cannot accommodate the blend.

One potential hurdle for the legislation outside of a final vote is that federal law prohibits the generalized sale of the fuel option in summer months. E15 is more likely than other fuels to evaporate in the heat. There were also concerns about smog from higher ethanol blends, according to PBS. If the legislation passes, it would require gas stations to find a solution for hot Iowa summers. Options include using a flex fuel label to create a smaller demand for drivers. Tom Cope, a lobbyist for Casey’s General Stores, has previously said that label would cause sales to drop significantly, hurting sales for companies like the one he represents.

Other bills have been proposed regarding biofuels in the Senate, but it is unclear if those bills will make it to the general floor. It is also unclear when the Senate will vote on the legislation.

Gov. Reynolds proposal would make 15 percent ethanol dominant fuel in Iowa

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Eleanor Hildebrandt | January 26, 2022

A new bill proposed by Gov. Kim Reynolds could make fuel that contains 15 percent ethanol fuel the dominant fuel in Iowa in the next four years.

The bill was filed on Monday following a similar proposal did not pass in Iowa during the last session. The current legislation would require all gas stations in the state to sell the E-15 fuel at at least half their pumps. If passed, the bill would give Iowans more options when filling their vehicles with gas anywhere in the state. At a Iowa House subcommittee, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Lobbyist Sarah Allen supported the legislation.

“We think it gives consumers the ability to purchase E-15 more freely across the state, because that’s not happening right now,” she said.

At the meeting, State Policy Adviser for the Iowa Farm Bureau Kevin Kuhle said Iowa is currently lagging behind in ethanol consumption, regardless of the state being the leader in ethanol and biodiesel production. The bill advanced out of the subcommittee on Tuesday according to Iowa Public Radio. The legislation does provide exceptions for fueling stations featuring older tanks and pipes that are incompatible with ethanol fuels. It provides up to $50,000 from the state to update such stations.

Gasoline fuel blends with 10 percent of ethanol, known at E10, are one of the most widely sold fuels, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. Most gas pumps have an E10 option in Iowa currently. The switch to E15 if the legislation is passed could increase the demand for the fuel by 61 million gallons of ethanol. It could generate up to $72 million in new income for biofuels and agriculture companies.

Gov. Reynolds supports biofuel industry with Tuesday exec. order

A bus displays that it runs on biodiesel (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | December 4, 2019

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed an executive order declaring that future diesel engine vehicles purchased by the state must be able to use 20% biodiesel Tuesday at the Iowa Farm Bureau’s Annual Meeting.

The Iowa Department of Transportation fleet has already been using B20 biodiesel since 1994, a press release  said. While the order may not drastically change Iowa’s existing vehicle purchase tendencies, it is a gesture of support to an industry long dissatisfied with federal biofuel policies.

Iowa farmers and others have for months expressed displeasure with the Trump administration’s repeated Renewable Fuel Standard exemptions to oil refineries. The exemptions undercut what would otherwise be guaranteed demand for biofuel, and several failed ethanol plants have blamed the exemptions for their closure.

Environmentalists and other stakeholders argue about the environmental benefits of ethanol and biodiesel. The fuels reduce fossil fuel use and emissions but are produced through resource-intensive agriculture, which expends almost as much energy as the fuels store.

The fuels are pivotal to Iowa’s economy regardless. A Des Moines Register article about the executive order said Iowa is the nation’s biggest ethanol and biodiesel producer.

Poet plant ‘production pause’ furthers cellulosic ethanol’s historic challenges

Cellulosic ethanol is produced from crop residue, like the material depicted above (via Creative Commons) .

Julia Poska | November 20, 2019

An Iowa plant that produces ethanol from cellulose found in corn residue announced Tuesday that it will stop commercial operations in February.

Cellulosic ethanol is widely regarded as a more environmentally friendly version of the plant-based fuel because it provides a use for waste products like cobs and stalks rather than an incentive to put more land into industrial corn production.

Typical ethanol, made from corn kernels, has an “energy return on investment” (EROI) of less than 2:1, most sources agree. This means that the fuel supplies only about as much energy as was put into growing and refining the product. Researchers believe EROI for cellulosic ethanol could be somewhat higher than for corn-based ethanol, but still much lower than for other energy sources.

Despite the apparent benefits, cellulosic ethanol has been slow to take off. The Renewable Fuels Association 2019 Ethanol Industry Outlook report indicated that cellulosic sources provide only about 3.4% of U.S. ethanol production capacity.

The Des Moines Register reported that personnel of the plant, owned by POET, blamed the “pause” in production on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for granting Renewable Fuel Standard exemptions to oil refineries in recent years. The RFS sets minimum levels of biofuel that gasoline and diesel must contain, so exemptions reduce what would otherwise be a guaranteed demand for biofuel.

Cellulosic ethanol production has lagged behind forecasts since it first entered commercial purview, however.  In 2007, the Bush administration called for 100 million and 250 million gallons of commercial cellulosic ethanol production in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Actual commercial production did not begin until 2012, according to MIT Technology Review.

In July 2018, thought national production of cellulosic ethanol could top 15 million gallons, far behind the EPA’s goal of 7 billion gallons for that year.

The POET cellulosic ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa opened in 2014, according to the Register. The facility cost $275 million to build and received about $120 million in state and federal incentives. The plant has a capacity to produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually, according to POET, and has spent years working on “optimizing” the production process to reach full capacity.

The plant will continue doing “research and development” on cellulosic ethanol while producing regular corn ethanol at another plant next door, according to the Register. Another cellulosic ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa closed in 2017, the Register also reported.

Trump administration ethanol rules may help Iowa farmers

Photo by Todd Trapani on

Tyler Chalfant | October 10th, 2019

On Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture proposed new rules promoting ethanol consumption over petroleum. This move is considered primarily to be an economic strategy aimed at reducing the pressure placed on farmers by ongoing trade wars.

The plan would involve increasing biofuel sales above the current 15 billion gallons annually. It would also make 15 percent ethanol fuels more available at gas stations domestically as well as increase access to foreign markets. Iowa farmers say they have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars due as U.S. trade policy has destabilized agriculture markets and EPA waivers have decreased demand for ethanol. 

Iowa is the nation’s leading producer of ethanol biofuels, and the industry supports nearly 43,000 jobs in the state. Elected officials from Iowa have criticized the Trump administration on previous moves perceived as harming the biofuel industry. In August, the EPA granted 31 waivers to oil refineries, exempting them from laws requiring them to blend biofuels into their gasoline. 

Since January 2017, the Trump administration has granted 85 biofuel waivers to small refineries. The new proposal claims that larger refineries will carry the extra burden by blending in ethanol for those exempted, although this is something that the EPA has not successfully enforced in the past. Farmers say that the new plan also lacks details on how these rules will be enforced going forward.