USDA Aims to Fund 10,000 New Flex-Fuel Pumps by 2016

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack today announced a new program to help fund the installation of 10,000 ethanol “blender pumps” within the next 5 years. The pumps are capable of distributing varying gasoline-ethanol mixes, ranging from a newly-approved E15 blend to E85, which is an 85-percent mix usable only in flex-fuel vehicles.

Under the terms of the program, commercial and private gas-ethanol blender pumps will be eligible for a grant representing as much as 25 percent of their total cost, which the USDA says usually runs around $120,000. Exactly how much money will be offered per-applicant and how many pumps will be funded has not yet been decided, but as much as $200 million will be available over the next three years for such projects under the agency’s Rural Energy for America Program.

The pumps would greatly boost the availability of E85, which is currently sold at less than 2 percent of U.S. filling stations. American automakers have pledged to include flex-fuel capability in 50 percent of the cars they sell, beginning with the 2012 model year. A new Senate bill seeks to increase that number to 90 percent by 2016.

But with less than 2,400 gas stations offering E85, few drivers are likely to be able to initially take advantage of the relatively inexpensive upgrades OEMs are giving their vehicles in order to make them flex-fuel capable. Even with 10,000 new flex-fuel pumps available, the level of E85-friendly gas stations in the United States would increase to just 7 percent. The fact that—when adjusted for energy concentration—E85 is currently more expensive than regular gasoline, isn’t likely to help the fuel’s market viability much either.

The new pumps will also dispense E15, which was recently approved by the EPA and should begin showing up at filling stations this summer. The EPA is expected to issue a final rule on labeling for the new blend soon, allowing for it to be sold alongside other mixes despite its potential to damage older engines and gas-powered machinery. It’s unknown how many gas stations will initially carry E15, since many existing gas dispensers aren’t able to handle the 50-percent higher mix of ethanol and will need to be updated or replaced by blending pumps like those funded under the new USDA program.

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  • Rong544

    I can’t imagine anything more ridiculous than burning our food supply. Those in poorer countries (whom we used to export to) must be loving the idea of ever greater use by us of food for fuel instead of exporting to them for food to eat.

    bon appétit America!

  • MrEnergyCzar

    Why would we use oil to feed, grow, process and convert food to fuel? It’s a poor use of oil. I guess it gives the illusion of “domestic fuel”…..


  • Matt Crook

    Ethanol is okay if derived from the right source, unfortunately our government is dead set on a domestic fuel supply even if the source doesn’t make economic sense or common sense. Therefor they spend millions subsidizing domestic, corn-derived ethanol (which drives up food prices) while we could import cheaper (and more environmentally friendly) sugar cane derived ethanol from Brazil.

    Also, (FYI), in this article you said ethanol is more expensive than gasoline, however you chose a picture showing ethanol blends being progressively cheaper the more ethanol they had, which is contradictory.

  • Lad

    Might I be so bold as to suggest that e fuel is of value only to get us off foreign oil…that’s it. You are still running an ineffecient internal combustion engine and burning expensive chemicals in the atmosphere.

  • Lad

    Brazil has a shortage of ethanol because of poor weather conditions last year and is now importing ethanol from, guess where?, the U.S.

  • jim1961

    “…Also, (FYI), in this article you said ethanol is more expensive than gasoline, however you chose a picture showing ethanol blends being progressively cheaper the more ethanol they had, which is contradictory…”

    Ethanol has less energy per gallon than gasoline or diesel. An internal combustion engine must burn more ethanol per mile than gasoline. If you check out the EPA website you can get estimated fuel economy for any car or truck including flex fuel vehicles. In addition, ethanol is highly subsidized.

    In the past I thought ethanol was a great idea for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Then I found out that the CO2 reductions were grossly overstated. Also there is the food for fuel issue. Many liberals are against corn ethanol for these very reasons. Conservatives tend to be against ethanol because it’s highly subsidized. If so many are against it why do we continue to subsidize corn ethanol? I blame Iowa and presidential election politics.

  • btc

    Stop drinking the republican cool-aid (that food prices will soar and people will starve). People in poorer countries will not starve because food gets too expensive. REMEMBER most of the cost of the food comes from oil (for every one calorie of food we produce it costs us 10 calories of OIL) so by diverting some grown food (emphasis on some) to decrease the price of fuel, you’re also decreasing the price of transporting food, fuel based fertilizers, plastic food packaging, etc, etc. The increased cost of the food will be offset by the decreased price of transporting the food and growing the food. I know that corn-based ethanol is not what we should use but we’re seeing a movement towards switch-grass and genetically engineered algae.

  • Nasdram

    One aspect of the food for oil argument that is seemingly widely ignored is the issue of subsidies in the US and EU.
    The main reason that high corn prices are currently bad for poor countries is, that the US swamps Mexico with cheap subsidised corn to the point that is costs more for a farmer in Mexico to grow the corn than buy it in a super market.
    Rising food prices will reduce the amount of subsidation needed in the US to make farming profitable. The same is true for developing countries. With rising food prices farming could become again a viable career choice in Mexico, Africa or other countries that are currently dependent on food imports from the west.
    I would see such a development very positively.
    Also it seems hypocritical to be against using corn for ethanol production while wasting huge amounts on meat production. If people are caring so much for the food prices in developing nations, how about consuming less meat. That would reduce the prices of corn and cereals a lot as well.

  • Samie

    Nasdram, hypothetically if we open up ethanol markets to imports & demand increases globally for ethanol products causing higher prices on ethanol “grains” on an open market, who is to say that land now used only for food crops, timber, or wilderness protection will not be converted to use only for the ethanol ag-business? Or are we against global markets when it comes to ethanol? How do we reduce volatility or say speculation when weather conditions or water allowances can be unpredictable from year-to-year?

    btc republican kool-aid? Please. The subsidies & mandates for the ethanol industry are a big joke & a waste of government bc. we have not created the incentive for ethanol markets to spur their own technological advances and reductions in cost barriers. BTW I think its noble to reduce meat consumption but globally speaking, meat consumption is increasing with more consumption based income available.

  • JJJ

    I dont understand the point of all those choices.

    89 already means E-10
    Then there’s E-85. But whats the point of the middle choices? You need a flex-fuel car to use them anyway….why pick E-30 over E-20? Makes no sense.

    And yes, ethanol has less energy than gas, but is cheaper, so if you do the math, you can come out ahead, or behind. Depends on the price of the day.

  • Yegor

    Compressed natural gas seems to be a better choice – there is plenty of it, it is cheap and there is no food price problem.
    I hear a lot about flex fuel but not much about compressed natural gas. Why is it?

  • Max Reid

    Gasoline prices are increasing since Oil prices are increasing. But why is Ethanol price also increasing, since only 30% of the input energy for Ethanol is coming from Diesel (For Tractors & Trucks) while the other 70% comes from Electricity & Heat which in turn comes from Coal, Gas, Nuclear, etc.

    Is it because all the gas stations are controlled by Oil companies.
    Is it possible for Ethanol companies to establish their own Ethanol stations.

  • Anonymous

    For every gallon of Ethanol used, every gallon of gasoline is reduced which will help keep the oil prices low which in turn will reduce the inflation. Why are we linking Ethanol prices to Food.

    Corn production can be increased at will, but the Oil prices cannot.
    If we cut Ethanol consumption, Oil prices will rise even higher.

  • Anonymous

    There are 9 million flex fuel vehicles in this country, but unfortunately they dont buy E85 since its artificially prices higher by the gas stations.

    So oil companies are holding us as hostages.

  • JamesDavis

    Why are we throwing away our money on 10,000 blend pumps when we can use that money to install 10,000,000 recharge stations for electric cars? It sounds like we are allowing the Republicans regress us instead of progress us away from all fossil fuels. How long are we going to stay blind and stupid to the dangers and high cost of fossil fuel? Something had better wake up us quick or we mise-as-well change our American name to New Africa and light up our genocide torch.

  • Shines

    Butanol is a bio fuel made in a similar way to ethanol
    Butanol has a higher energy density than ethanol
    Butanol – if you want to waste food for fuel, at least create one that does not require flex fuel vehicles. One that has a similar energy density to gasoline. Butanol is a better biofuel than ethanol and the same farmers can use their same crops to produce it in the same processing plants – just adjust the fermentation process.
    Wind, solar, tidal and geothermal are better renewable resources than food crops…
    I expect to see more electric vehicle options not more ethanol options.

  • Anonymous

    JamesDavis : Your idea of 10 million recharge stations looks good, however we have only 1,500 EVs at this time and the recharge stations will grow with EVs.

    Shines : Butanol has 95% energy as in Gasolene while Ethanol has only 75%. However its lot more simple to make Ethanol than Butanol and thats why more then 20 billion gallons of Ethanol is produced Worldwide last year while Butanol has not even crossed 1 million threshold.

    Until then Ethanol is a good temporary alternative.
    Gas prices are $3.76 / gallon as of now.

    But there is some news about Butanol of late

  • Anonymous

    On the rising prices in the Oil front,
    Airline Chiefs fired the 1st warning shots
    Automaker Chiefs may be the 2nd
    When Retailers join the 3rd, our economy may very well be in danger.

    Its high time the gas stations start selling E15 and reduce the oil consumption. Paralelly, people start buying more hybrids and fuel efficient vehicles instead of going to SUVs again.

  • Anonymous

    “Total vehicle sales gained 5.4 percent in March to 1.8 million units, the auto group said. Vehicle sales for the first quarter increased 8.1 percent to 5 million units.”

    If Chinese sold 5 million units in Q1, then they may sell 20 million units in this year. For sure, Oil prices will settle above $120 / barrel even if the Libya crisis ends peacefully.

    So that means, gas prices of around $3.7 / gallon may be a norm. Its high time, we jump into all sort of alternatives like Ethanol, CNG, Electricity, etc.

  • Anonymous

    Total auto sales in China may reach 20m this year, however, gasoline consumed by China is still far lower than that of the U.S.

    Why? Why??

  • Anonymous

    Look who made the announcement, it’s Secretary of Agriculture, not Secretary of Energy.

  • JM

    Because many of the 20 Million new cars in China are not replacing old ones. There are 250 Million cars in the US. It will take a few more years before the car count exceeds the US.

  • Anonymous

    I guess that’s also because, in China, not many drive pickups/SUVs to commute to work, except those in a few major cities, furthermore, they prefer cars with less powerful, smaller displacement engines (government also provided incentive in 2009 and 2010).

  • Mr.Bear

    The headline tells you all you need to know about ethanol: it’s being pushed by the Department of Agriculture and not the Department of Energy.

  • Indigo

    Does ethanol even burn when mixed with gasoline? I noticed a 10% reduction in fuel economy with e10, which means I had to burn 110% more fuel to drive the same distance. How does this help the ecology?

  • Dom

    Hmm… seeing how 66% of Americans are overweight or obese, I don’t see how we are hurting for food… so why not burn the extra in our cars instead of lugging it around in our bodies? Besides, slimmer lighter people would mean less weight our cars have to lug around, increasing fuel economy!

    It does seem that using waste products for fuel sources instead of deliberately planting things like corn to produce fuel makes more sense. Things like biodiesel from algae also sounds like a really good idea.

  • Anonymous

    AFP: Drivers of Nissan’s electric Leaf report problems
    TOKYO — Japanese auto giant Nissan on Monday said customers in the United States and Japan had reported problems restarting their all-electric Leaf vehicles after switching the motor off.

  • Victoria A.

    The selection of gasoline looks a little confusing! However, if this sort of thing would be cheaper in the long run – and help avoid the “pain at the pump” that we are currently dealing with, and be better for the environment then that’s cool. However I have an older regular gas sort of car that I’d love to trade for a more green vehicle, but that’s not something I can do any time soon.

    Guess we’ll see!

  • Anonymous

    “Rising gas prices are prompting many Americans to cut back on driving, with some 70 percent of the nation’s major gas-station chains saying sales declined in March…”

  • JamesDavis

    Really funny isn’t it? They jack the gas prices out of reach of the common worker who can no longer afford to drive to work and they wonder why sales are down, and because of the like of supply and demand, they will raise the prices again. I think they should quit sniffing all those tail pipes long enough for their heads to clear up and they might come to the conclusion that they are pricing themselves right out of business. Do you think they will realize that fact before they go under…or just keep wondering why sales are down?

  • Ken olivarri

    Yes it’s more expensive. The picture shows a cheaper price but Ethanol should be 30% cheaper to what ever the price of gas is to come out even on the mileage loss. Yes people think at the time their saving money but don’t relize their going back to get gas more often. I don’t understand why they keep raising their E-85 prices, they have nothing to do on what’s going on overseas everything is made right here in the good old U.S.A. It’s less expensive to make than gas no transit costs actually they are making more money than the gas crooks. They have seen how much money is being made and stuffing their pockets full. To me if the price of E-85 was 35% cheaper than gas they would greatly increase sales everyone who can use this fuel would. I have a full size truck it runs good on E-85 but don’t last as long. As far as adding more pumps they should have started this back in 08 when gas hit the 4 dollar mark looks like someone was dragging their feet.

  • Frank Hulbert Jr

    :You are going to see food shortages due to corn being used as a fuel and a shortage of beans, and other grains. The united states corn and bean inventory is drasticaly low, 15 year low, due to corn used as fuel. Farmers have quit growing beans to grow corn. Then you must take into account the weather, floods, etc. The food warehouses are getting low NOW! The small farmer is disapearing and the corporations are controlling the food supply! Wake up America! I am a farmer and I watch the market daily! I also read the government stastics!

  • tapra1

    since many existing gas dispensers aren’t able to handle the 50-percent higher mix of ethanol and will need to be updated or replaced by blending pumps like those funded under the new USDA program.DK Tech