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Vilsack: Ethanol should be a national industry

OMAHA (DTN) – The U.S. ethanol industry was born in the Midwest, and most of the country’s ethanol is still produced here, but USDA hopes to change that.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a press conference Tuesday that USDA plans to do what it can to make ethanol a national industry by investing in infrastructure and technology.

In a couple of days, Vilsack said, USDA is set to release a report to offer a roadmap on how to build on the success of corn-based ethanol and to meet the goals of the federal Renewable Fuels Standard. The RFS mandates the use of 36 billion gallons of ethanol and other biofuels by 2022.



Most U.S. ethanol is produced in Iowa, Nebraska and Illinois. But to meet the RFS goals, Vilsack said ethanol has to be produced in all 50 states.

For starters, Vilsack said he believes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will approve the use of E15 in at least some vehicles yet this year.



“The potential could be as high as 100 million vehicles that could become eligible for ethanol use,” he said. This includes flexible-fuel vehicles and vehicles that can use higher ethanol blends, such as E15.

That’s why there needs to be more attention focused on expanding ethanol infrastructure, including offering more blender pumps in all regions of the country, said Vilsack.

Blender pumps give motorists the opportunity to choose from a variety of ethanol blends, or even ethanol-free blends.

Vilsack was asked how the USDA can invest more money in advanced biofuels and its infrastructure, since the agency already scrambles to find dollars to support existing programs.

He said the renewable fuels industry can be expanded by using available USDA resources, such as existing titles in the Farm Bill, to help retrofit current corn-ethanol plants for cellulosic ethanol production and to take advantage of state-level rural development programs.

“We have the energy title of the Farm Bill and rural development programs,” Vilsack said. “It’s all about priorities. This isn’t going to be done by government alone and it hasn’t been done by government alone. We need to look at whether there are existing incentives that can be used differently to meet needs.”

Vilsack offered few details from the report, although he hinted that some of the findings came as a surprise.

“What you’ll see is a state-by-state comparison of where ethanol is used,” he said. “I was surprised that there are a number of states in the Southeast, Southwest, Northeast and the West Coast where there are many users of ethanol. It appears there are needs for this industry.”

The USDA report will offer a strategy on how federal and state resources can be used to grow the industry in parts of the country that are traditional ethanol importers.

Vilsack said the USDA report will provide a strategy to build more blender pumps across the country. The report also identifies the amount of potential biomass and cellulosic-ethanol feedstocks produced in given regions of the country and ways to tap into those resources to produce biofuels.

“Part of the strategy is to build biorefineries in all areas of the country, and it won’t be just corn-based ethanol,” Vilsack said. “Rather than having a central location (for ethanol production), we have the capacity to help all 50 states. We’ve got to make this a national industry.”


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