Green Plains Renewable Energy, the fourth-largest U.S. ethanol producer, told investors and analysts Thursday that gasolines with higher ethanol content, such as the 15 percent version known as E15, soon will begin to make their way into the nation’s fuel supply on a widespread basis.
At current prices for ethanol and gasoline, there is profit to be gained from E15, Chief Executive Todd Becker said on a conference call after the release of fourth-quarter earnings by the Omaha-based operator of 12 ethanol plants in the Midwest and other states.
Ethanol this week was selling at about a 72-cent-per-gallon discount to gasoline, making it profitable to mix the cheaper, grain-based product with the more expensive gasoline to create a blended fuel.
“We are going to start to see over time, as retailers start to put E15 in stations, competitors across the street will have to react,” said Becker. “Economics will drive the behavior.”
It is not without controversy. Ethanol-blended gasoline, with the 10 percent variety known as E10 ubiquitous at U.S. filling stations, has plenty of critics who say it is inferior and damaging to some motors. The ethanol industry dispute such claims, saying high ethanol blends are safely used worldwide in the equipment and vehicles identical to those sold in the United States.
There are also matters of law at stake. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed rules requiring refiners to blend 15.2 billion gallons of ethanol into gasoline in 2014, down from 16.5 billion gallons in 2013, and below the 18.2 billion gallons envisioned in 2007 federal renewable-fuels legislation.
The EPA proposal, still being debated and subject to a public comment period, acknowledged that it will be tough to expand ethanol use in motor fuels minus higher blend-percentages such as E15.