Air Pollution Rules Relaxed for U.S. Ethanol Producers

WASHINGTON, DC, April 12, 2007 (ENS) - The federal government said today that it will permit corn milling facilities that make ethanol for fuel to emit more than double the amount of air pollutants previously allowed. The new rule is expected to increase the amount of ethanol available for fuel.

The final rule issued today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, treats facilities producing ethanol for human consumption, industrial use or fuel equally under Clean Air Act permitting requirements.

Until today, corn milling plants that make ethanol for use as a fuel additive have only been allowed to emit 100 tons of polluting emissions per year, while plants that make ethanol for human consumption have been permitted to emit 250 tons per year.

The new EPA rule allows all ethanol producers using corn or other carbohydrate feedstocks to emit 250 tons of air pollutants per year.

The farmer-owned East Kansas Agri-Energy ethanol plant near Garnett, Kansas produced its first gallon in June 2005. (Photo courtesy ICM)
Previously, the agency had classified drymill ethanol plants as "chemical process plants" and had subjected them to the 100 ton per year threshold that applies to other chemical process plants.

The decision will not impact existing state and federal air quality standards and existing emission control technologies will continue to be required.

The American Coalition for Ethanol, ACE, the nation’s largest ethanol association, applauded the rule change. ACE Executive Vice President Brian Jennings said, "Correcting this procedural inconsistency is a necessary and just step as the U.S. ethanol industry continues to ramp up its production of renewable fuel for America."

Currently there are 118 ethanol production facilities in the United States and 76 more under construction, according to ACE. Dozens more are in various stages of planning.

By the end of 2006, the total ethanol production capacity reached nearly 5.5 billion gallons.

"Today's ruling by the EPA is a major step forward for the homegrown production of one of America's cleanest renewable fuels - ethanol," said Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican who sent a letter to the EPA, supported by 32 members of Congress, which called for the reclassification of ethanol production.


Senator John Thune of South Dakota (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
"This decision will result in greater, more efficient ethanol production, which will lower fuel costs for consumers and reduce automobile pollution and America's dependence on foreign oil. In addition, ethanol production emits 20 percent less greenhouse gasses than petroleum production, which ultimately means less pollution on a per-gallon basis when people fill up their vehicles using ethanol blended gasoline," said Thune.

Ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol, drinking alcohol or grain alcohol, is the alcohol found in liquors. It is also used for human consumption as a solvent in dissolving medicines, food flavorings and colorings that do not dissolve easily in water.

Examples of industrial uses of ethanol would include ethanol used in perfumes, aftershaves and for cleaners.

The vast majority of ethanol produced in the United States is used for fuel. It is blended with gasoline to increase the fuel blend's octane or to produce a cleaner burning fuel.

A primary difference between production of industrial or fuel ethanol and ethanol for human consumption is that a small amount of gasoline or solvent is added to the fuel ethanol to make it undrinkable and the process does not generally use food-grade equipment. Otherwise, the processes are generally similar. For that reason, the EPA says it has decided to treat all ethanol manufacturers equally with regard to air pollution emissions.


United Wisconsin Grain Producers ethanol plant located in Friesland, Wisconsin, (Photo courtesy ICM)
Ethanol manufacturers will get another break under the new EPA air pollution rule.

Pollutants released to the air other than those from stacks or vents are called fugitive emissions. They can be due to equipment leaks, evaporative processes, and windblown disturbances.

Before today’s rule, fuel and industrial ethanol facilities were required to include fugitive emissions of criteria pollutants in their emissions threshold totals.

Today’s rule eliminates that requirement at fuel and industrial ethanol plants where the ethanol is produced by processing carbohydrate feedstock through a natural fermentation process.

The six criteria pollutants are particulate matter, ground level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and lead. These pollutants can harm human health and the environment, and cause property damage.

Jennings said, "Ethanol is a clean fuel made through a clean process. Ethanol projects must undergo a rigorous permitting process to ensure compliance with all state and federal air quality standards. U.S. ethanol producers operate using the best available state-of-the-art technologies to control emissions within the limits set by law and will continue to do so in the future."

Ethanol can also be made from other products such as grain sorghum, wheat, barley, sugar cane or beets, cheese whey, and potatoes.

Cellulosic feedstocks such as municipal waste or recycled products, rice hulls, sugarcane bagasse, small diameter trees, wood chips, and switchgrass may also be used to produce ethanol. These cellulosic feedstocks and the process used to convert them to ethanol are close to being commercialized.