Renewable Fuel Standard

The EPA plans to propose allowing E15 to be sold year-round.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media file photo

President Donald Trump’s administration will “unleash the power of E15,” allowing the 15 percent gasoline-ethanol blend to be sold year-round.

The announcement, made public this week at a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, is being welcomed by corn growers and biofuel groups. But it may take longer for farmers like Kelly Nieuwenhuis of Primghar, Iowa, to feel the positive impact of E15 than they would like.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Advanced biofuels have been touted as the next step beyond the corn-based ethanol that’s the bulk of the country’s renewable fuel for cars and trucks. These next-generation options were supposed to bring jobs to rural communities and provide farmers with fresh revenue sources, in addition to reducing the carbon footprint of vehicles.

Nearly a decade of federal incentives encouraged companies to invest in cellulosic technology, which produces ethanol from crop waste such as stalks, cobs and leaves left on fields after harvest, and at least three plants were built in the Midwest since 2014.

But cellulosic ethanol is harder to make than grain ethanol because it uses the inedible and irregular parts of the plants, meaning it was tough for machines to chew up the wet, heavy material. And companies faced other challenges, such as a steady supply, fluctuating markets and stalled policy decisions.

Protecting the Renewable Fuel Standard is a priority for officials from corn-producing states, as shown by this sign at an RFS rally in Iowa a few years ago.
File: Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Updated Nov. 30 with EPA decision — Midwestern U.S. senators’ lobbying campaign paid off Thursday for farmers who supply the renewable fuel industry.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue (center) waits to welcome a new appointee to the agency. The event was also supposed to include the appointment of Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey (left), but his nomination is blocked in the Senate.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

An event Monday planned to mark two Midwestern political appointees joining the U.S. Department of Agriculture was partly spoiled by a political dispute over biofuels.  

Nearly all of the ethanol blended into U.S. gasoline is made from corn.
File: Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

On a sweltering summer morning, Rob Mitchell surveys a plot of switchgrass at a research field near Lincoln, Nebraska. The grass is lush, green and nearly six feet tall.

“And it will get a couple feet taller than this,” says Mitchell, an agronomist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “So we’re putting on a lot of biomass right now.”