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Hope for an end to the ethanol debacle?

If you’re like Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders who is “sick and tired of hearing about Hillary Clinton’s emails,” then you are just a likely fed up hearing about the ethanol debacle. But the announcement last week of the Smarter Fuel Future coalition’s new campaign, dubbed “Inconvenient Facts,” brings to mind the possibility that biobutanol could put an end to ethanol in the future.

That’s not to indicate the coalition’s new eight-week campaign isn’t needed now. It absolutely is. This multimedia effort will show that blends of ethanol higher than the current E10 will result in harmful environmental effects and that the nation’s outdated 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard must be revised now. Click here to view the broadcast ad.

Biobutanol is real. Scientists at DuPont have been developing it for more than a decade. Held up since 2011 by a barrage of now-settled patent disputes, this new fuel could replace ethanol and bring in billions of dollars for producers. Indeed, DuPont is partnering with BP to convince ethanol plants to convert to biobutanol and cash in on a more-than-$20 billion market.

Essentially, DuPont and BP have reportedly invested hundreds of millions of dollars in development in which they affected the genes of yeast. It creates a new oil-producing organism. The partnership is officially named butamax advanced biofuels. Most importantly, it owns the biobutanol-producing yeast patents. Moreover, the new fuel boasts 25 percent more energy-per-gallon than ethanol and does not have the potential to harm an engine's fuel system (even in a boating environment).

Last June, the National Marine Manufacturers Association endorsed the new fuel. It followed a five-year evaluation of a 16 percent biobutanol-to-gasoline mix in marine engines by Bombardier Recreational Products, Argonne National Laboratories, the American Boat and Yacht Council and the NMMA.

The research involved the evaluation of performance, efficiency and emissions, including particulates, as well as durability and lubrication effects over a wide range of recreational boat engine types and sizes from several manufacturers.

But back to the very real need for the Smarter Fuel Future coalition’s actions now. The existing law mandates that 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel be blended with gas by 2022. Without revisions of the fuel standard, we’re guaranteed higher and higher concentrations of ethanol in gasoline (can you say E15 or higher?) and the disaster it will be for marine engines. And while biobutanol could supply the necessary liquid fuel to satisfy the government-mandated fuel standard instead of ethanol, it is not an easy process.

Before biobutanol can fuel cars, boats and airplanes, it must be produced on a large scale. That will take multimillion dollar investments to transform production at current ethanol plants. It assumes the corn ethanol producers can be convinced. And that won’t be easy since they’re riding a gravy train right now. Add to that, biobutanol costs more than ethanol and the oil companies that are creating full blends will be reluctant to increase their costs (estimated at 15 percent higher), no matter that it means more energy will come out of a gallon of gas.

So the current action of the Smarter Fuel Future coalition remains critical as the boating industry, along with many partners, works to get ethanol out of the nation’s boaters’ fuel tanks by pushing for fuel-standard revisions. It’s what we must do.


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