Oil industry expert calls ethanol a ‘gimmick’

The GAfuels Blog is written by two private pilots concerned about the future availability of fuels for piston-engine aircraft: Dean Billing, Sisters, Ore., an expert on autogas and ethanol, and Kent Misegades, Cary, N.C., an aerospace engineer and aviation journalist.

In his keynote address on the future of the fuels industry at last week’s annual convention of the Petroleum Equipment Industry in Atlanta, Dr. Phillip Verleger, a professor at the University of Calgary and a noted expert on the oil industry, called the U.S. mandates on ethanol production a “gimmick” devised to benefit primarily the agricultural and ethanol industries.

Reinforced by comments from petroleum legal authority Jeff Leiter in his regulatory outlook and a panel of government and industry experts on the subject of E15, Verleger described how the consumption of E10 ethanol is falling fall short of production mandates from the EISA 2007 RFS law.

Despite widespread objections to E15, most recently from auto makers, the EPA is expected this month to approve its use in vehicles built since 2007. Pending ongoing testing, it may also be approved for older vehicles in the coming year.

Noticeably absent from discussions at the PEI Convention was mention of the millions of engines in the U.S. that may not be operated with any level of ethanol, including 70%-80% of all piston-engine aircraft. Ironically, the lack of ethanol-free Mogas at our airports results in the use of leaded Avgas at levels far greater than is necessary, at a time when the EPA is calling on the end of its use in the next decade

In remarks to me after the E15 panel discussion, Steve Przesmitzki, the DOE’s Manager for Fuels and Lubricants Technology, admitted that even if all fuel sold in the U.S. were E15, consumption would still lag behind the RFS mandates. He predicted the need to raise the level to E20 or higher in the coming years or changes to the RFS mandates would be needed.

Even should the EPA approve E15 this year, many hurdles must be overcome before it may be – legally – sold. So far, 35 states have laws that limit ethanol blends to E10. The required legislative action to increase levels to E15 is expected to require two or more years, and massive opposition can be expected. Other than relatively few E85 gas stations in the country, current fueling stations do not have UL approval to handle E15, and Underwriters Lab has already stated that the use of E15 will require new fuel equipment costing billions. Few equipment suppliers offer products today that are capable of handling more than 10% ethanol.  As Verleger accurately described the situation, America’s ethanol policy is “a train wreck in progress.”

Submitted by Kent Misegades


  1. Kent Misegades says:

    G Morton, I understand your suggestion and it has merit. But 100SF is not here today and may never be if a producer can not be found. When it is produced, it is very unlikely that it will be cheaper at the pump that Mogas, sold at under $3/gallon all across the country. Supplies of E0 are actually better than you might think – check out http://www.PURE-GAS.org for listings. We are in touch with refiners across the country who are committed to supplying E0 indefinitely. They are mandated to blend ethanol, but there is no rule where they may blend it. Many have discovered a lucrative market for premium E0 for boaters, snowmobilers, etc. and this is expanding. Most advocates for ethanol now admit that we’ll never get past the “blending wall”, even if all fuel goes E15 which it can’t due to limitations to vehicles built since 2007 – plus gas stations will need all new tanks, pumps, etc. and that is not going to happen overnight. The experts I met at last week’s PEI meeting in Atlanta admit that EISA 2007 RFS mandates will have to be modified downward. I even received a call from the Friends of the Earth last week who see increased use of Mogas as a means to reduce 100LL consumption soon. Few, if any, environmental groups support ethanol. The cards are being stacked against it. No aviation-specific fuel (other than Jet-A) will ever make up even 1% of the production of Mogas, so it only makes sense that we take advantage of the efficiencies of scale by using Mogas, not our boutique Avgas.

  2. Kent,
    The point I was making at this time has nothing to do with Swift 100SF vs. 100LL. My point is mogas has ethanol most everywhere. Ethanol won’t go away until it is replaced by another renewable blendstock. The US is committed by federal law to having a percentage of renewable blendstock in mogas. If you want to continue to use mogas as avgas, attempting to convince the petroleum industry, refineries, FBO’s and politicians everywhere to not add ethanol will be very difficult, if not ultimately in time, impossible. My point was, don’t continue to fight a losing battle about removing ethanol on a wide scale throughout the US. Change strategy and support replacing ethanol with a different RENEWABLE blendstock such as Swift Fuel. If all mogas had Swift Fuel as the blendstock instead of ethanol, I believe FBO’s would be more open to having mogas pumps, partly due to less liability without the possibility of ethanol tainted mogas. And gas stations would be ethanol free too, making it much easier for those whom tote it to their planes, without the concern that it may contain some ethanol. In the end we all could benefit by having a mogas for low compression aircraft, boats, farm equipment etc and have an affordable 100 plus octane avgas due to the volume of swift Fuel produced to accommodate all.

  3. Kent Misegades says:

    G Morton – One more point about Swift: I am surprised that few have commented on the fact that their current fuel is 16% heaver by volume than 100LL, i.e. 7 pounds instead of 6. Mogas by comparison is essentially identical in weight, but has 3%-5% more BTUs per gallon than 100LL. What will be the impact of Swift’s much heavier fuel on weight and balance, the need for new STC’s, how will we deal with a mixture of 100LL and 100SF in our tanks, reduced range, etc.? Seems like a huge show-stopper to me.

  4. Kent Misegades says:

    G Morton – Interesting proposal, but Mogas is available everywhere and at far lower costs than 100LL and likely also Swift’s fuel. If Swift, or GAMI, or Hjelmco, or others can get a product to market that works and is affordable, then they will win. I certainly wish them luck. But until then, Mogas is the bird in the hand worth two in the bush.

    Al Uhalt – I think you misunderstand our two-fuel proposal. We are just as adamant as you that aircraft need the correct fuel. For many, this means today 100LL. Until there is a suitable replacement, we need a stable, and affordable supply of it. On the other hand, nearly 80% of all legacy piston-engine aircraft and essentially 100% of all new LSA aircraft have engines that run better on unleaded, ethanol-free, 91 octane gasoline, aka Mogas. Its lower cost will be good to aviation, and we sure need the help. I’d like to know the source of your 20/80 ratio; We hear from GA airport managers that the ratio is more like 80/50, i.e. 80% of the aircraft that could use Mogas now burn 50% of the 100LL. This was confirmed by a recent EASA study that claims that should ethanol-free Mogas disappear in Germany, the consumption of 100LL would increase there by over 50%. In Sweden, they’re pulling 100LL out of airports as heavy piston owners transition to turbines and others burn Mogas or Hjelmco 91/96UL. If your ratio is correct though, then airports won’t hardly miss the loss in 100LL sales to Mogas, will they?

  5. Kent,

    In your GANews item of 11 Oct 10, you state, “Ironically, the lack of ethanol-free Mogas at our airports results in the use of leaded Avgas at levels far greater than is necessary, at a time when the EPA is calling on the end of its use in the next decade.”

    Without hard data, we cannot assign exact numbers and/or percentages to the aircraft REQUIRING leaded avgas today, but, whatever it is, it is NOT because of the lack of ethanol-free mogas.

    Somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 out of 10 of the piston engine powered aircraft today consume approximately 80% of the avgas produced and REQUIRE leaded avgas for two purposes: 1) effective increase in the fuel octane rating to avoid detonation and 2) lubrication. Unleaded mogas, ethanol-free or not, provides neither.

    Until a suitable substitute for tetraethyl lead becomes available or all of our high-compression, supercharged internal combustion engines are retired, leaded fuel will be necessary to keep our GA fleet in the air. Elimination of leaded fuel before a suitable replacement is available will reduce the sale of avgas to about 20% of 0.6% or twelve one-hundredths of one percent of the gasoline refined in the U.S. today and even less in other countries — economically not even worth dealing with. The only aircraft remaining flying will be just those who can use mogas — essentially only small recreational-types. General Aviation, as we know it today, will disappear, taking a whole industry with it.

    We (the entire industry) really need to invest a great deal more effort than we see today in developing a clean 100-octane fuel capable of internal engine lubrication NOW. With that available, avgas and mogas (hopefully without ethanol) in pumps side-by-side at our airports will serve us well.

  6. Our government is GOING to make sure no matter what that mogas has a percentage of a renewable fuel blended (now ethanol) in gasoline; this will not change and most likely escalate. What can change is using a different renewable mogas blendstock, such as Swift Fuel. It will meet all the requirements as a renewable fuel blendstock and can be produced in the same manner as ethanol, using the same infrastructure; farmers and production facilities and have none of the damaging effects of ethanol. It’s time to support a renewable blendstock alternative. We are wasting valuable time fighting the escalation of ethanol. It’s time to use our voice and resources to highly suggest a different renewable blendstock that everyone, including what mogas/avgas users require and can safely use. If others, such as Professor Dr. Phillip Verleger are influential enough, and more voices are heard about the scam of ethanol, let’s give government an alternative (because they are blind to any new change that makes sense) , and make it known that Swift Fuel, as a blendstock, will be available with little disruption to the fuel industry.

  7. Russ Sides says:

    Ethnol may be ao for some autos, but we should retain auto fuel without blend for acft. and many autos, which perform better.

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