EPA proposal pits oil against ethanol

5:56 PM, Dec 11, 2013   |    comments
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DENVER - The oil industry and producers of ethanol fuel are duking it out as the federal government works to set its requirement for using renewable fuel as a part of the gasoline supply.

It's gotten nasty, to the point that they're fighting on the airwaves in Colorado.

An ad currently airing on 9NEWS features a ventriloquist, meant to personify "big oil" eschewing renewable additives like ethanol in blended gasoline.

That ad comes from people like Dan Sanders, who talks a lot like a moonshiner as he gives us a tour of his company, Front Range Energy in Windsor, Colo.

"We have four batches we can make at a time," said Sanders, guiding us through fermentation tanks.

At its core, Front Range Energy is a distillery that makes the meanest, nastiest hooch, you'd NEVER want to drink.

"That's what you're smelling right now is that mash cooking," said Sanders.

The facility houses four fermentation tanks that hold more than a half-million gallons apiece.

Through tiny windows, you can see a green-tinted churning liquid that resembles squash soup with bits of corn floating in it.

That soupy stuff is in fact beer, being made from corn.

Yeast convert the sugars in the corn to alcohol and carbon dioxide.

After two days, the corn beer is roughly 20 percent alcohol by volume.

That concoction then heads to a series of three stills, which ups the alcohol content to 190 proof, the same as Everclear grain alcohol.

The facility passes the liquor through a sieve to remove the last bit of water, making 100 percent ethanol.

Though Sanders says it wouldn't taste good, the product is still considered consumable at this point. The company must be denatured with a blend of 2 percent gasoline to make it unfit for drinking, a step that keeps the product from being taxed as liquor.

All of this is to create an ethanol additive for the gas in your tank, which the federal government requires to reduce emissions.

In Colorado, ten percent of every gallon of gas you buy is ethanol, a standard known as E10.

The ethanol industry wants to increase its share of the blend to 15 percent (E-15,) arguing that unless the federal government makes the oil companies include their product, they're not going to be able to compete for your business.

"We have to sell to the oil companies and that highlights the fact that they control all the blending and distribution in this country," Sanders said.

The Environmental Protection Agency requires oil refiners to buy billions of gallons of biofuels each year, but the EPA has proposed a rule to lower the amount by a few billion next year, which is bad for the ethanol industry, hence the backlash on the airwaves.

Click here to go to the EPA website on the proposal, where you can submit a public comment by January 28.

"I think the folks in the ethanol industry are talking about what's good for them," said Stan Dempsey with the Colorado Petroleum Association.

Dempsey says oil companies plan to keep using ethanol, they just don't want the feds to tell them how much.

"We like to provide our customers the opportunity to purchase the product that they choose to have," Dempsey said.

Automakers are just starting to make vehicles that handle more than 10 percent ethanol.

In the meantime, the oil and gas industry and p

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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