Understanding the E15 Summer Fuel Exemption

President Biden’s emergency exemption allowing summer use of E15 fuel has led to a good information about the fuel but has also cause some confusion. Let us set the record straight.

Is E15 is a new fuel?
Back in 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of E15 in passenger vehicles 2001 and newer (about 96% of all cars on the road today). However, E15 was locked out of the summer fuel market because of outdated regulations governing evaporative emissions.

Is this the first time E15 use has been allowed in the summer?
No. E15 has been used during the summer months for the past three years. In 2019, the Trump administration approved year-round sales of E15. This allowed the development of E15 infrastructure since most retailers would use blender pumps to add E15 to their fuel lineups. USDA has supported E15 infrastructure development with higher blend infrastructure development programs. The Kansas Corn Commission has used these USDA programs in conjunction with its own farmer-funded infrastructure grant program. Kansas now has over 75 fuel stations that offer E15 fuel. Achieving permanent approval for year-round E15 sales will have a positive impact on the number of retailers who offer E15.

Will the waiver dramatically increase demand for corn?
Summer E15 sales were allowed in 2019, 2020 and 2021. This waiver prevents the loss of the summer market for E15, so it prevents the loss of market demand for ethanol and corn.

What about those evaporative emissions I keep hearing about?
E15 actually has lower volatility than E10, resulting in lower evaporative emissions. However, due to regulations set 30 years ago, E15 had been locked out of the summer market. In fact, fuel volatility and evaporative emissions continue to decrease when ethanol fuel blends increase beyond E10.

Why use ethanol fuels?
E10 a ten percent ethanol blend was approved for use about in 1978. Today, almost all of our regular unleaded fuel is E10. Henry Ford’s first cars could run on ethanol or gas, but Prohibition stopped the use of ethanol at that point in history. Today, ethanol blended fuels are a lower cost, higher octane, clean air fuel. Ethanol is a low-carbon biofuel that replaces petroleum-based additives in gasoline that are harmful to air quality and human health.

Should corn be used to make fuel instead of food?
Corn is versatile! It can be a grain or a vegetable. The corn our farmers grow is field corn, which is a grain that is harvested after the corn dries in the field. It is primarily used as feed for livestock, ethanol production and exports.

A little over eight percent of our field corn crop is grown as a grain for human food use to be ground to make foods like corn tortillas, tortilla chips, breakfast cereal, corn bread, or processed into corn starch and corn sweeteners that sweeten soft drinks and other food items. If you’re wondering about canned or frozen corn or corn on the cob—those delicious foods are sweet corn, a vegetable food crop that has been bred over the years to be sweeter and better to eat. Popcorn is yet another type of corn that has been bred over the years to produce the fluffy popped kernels we enjoy today!

Ethanol production actually makes a high protein corn product!
The fermentation process that converts corn into ethanol uses only the starch from the corn kernel. The protein and other nutrients within the corn kernel is not consumed in the ethanol production process, rather it is preserved and enhanced in a co-product known as distiller’s grain, which is an excellent high protein feed for livestock.

Show me the statistics!
In 2021, field corn usage was 14.8 billion bushels. Here is a look at corn usage in 2021.

Food uses for field corn
1.2 billion bushels, (8.5%) of field corn is used for human food consumption

420 million bushels (2.8%) was used to make high fructose corn syrup

365 million bushels (2.5%) was used to make glucose and dextrose

245 million bushels (1.7%) was used to make starch

214 million bushels (1.4%) was used to make cereal and other food.

Main Uses for Field Corn
Livestock: 5.65 billion bushels (38.1%) was used to feed livestock to produce meat

Ethanol: 4.27 billion bushels (28.8%) was used to make fuel ethanol

DDGS Ethanol Animal Feed: 1.1 billion bushels (7.1%) was used to make DDGS or distillers grains, a coproduct of ethanol production which is a high nutrient livestock feed.

Exports: 2.43 billion bushels (16.2%) was exported primarily for use as livestock feed overseas.

(Corn Uses Sources: USDA Supply and Demand Reports/NCGA World of Corn)