CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WMBD) — There is a way to save on gas, and it starts on the farm, not the pump. In the Midwestern agricultural community, that solution is ethanol.

Advocating for ethanol

“The farm economy– farmers– want to play a big part in supplying our fuel needs in the United States,” said Patrick Kirchhofer, manager of the Peoria County Farm Bureau, “as coming from biofuels and grains that are grown in Midwestern farms.”

Ethanol is an octane fuel made from corn. About a third of Illinois’ corn crop goes toward ethanol production, according to Kirchhofer.

Director of Marketing and Communications for IL Corn Lindsay Mitchell is a big advocate for an increase in ethanol production. She said rising energy prices can help others look to ethanol as a solution.

“Perhaps the public thinks more about ethanol now because things are changing for them at the pump,” Mitchell said. “Because we’ve seen the fuel prices skyrocket and people are concerned about the future of what their fuel looks like.”

“Ethanol overall is cheaper than petroleum, and so every increase in the percentage of ethanol per gallon of fuel lowers our cost per gallon of fuel,” Mitchell continued.

She said ethanol burns cleaner than other fuels, meaning it emits less carbon dioxide into the air.

“It’s really like a three-way winning opportunity,” Mitchell said. “We have cheaper fuel, we have cleaner fuel, and it’s also domestically produced.”

The Next Generation Fuels Act

“The Next Gen Fuels Act gives us an opportunity to make a new generation of automobile engines that will more efficiently use the liquid fuels that we have,” said Bill Leigh, a local farmer and District 4 Representative for the Illinois Corn Growers Association.

Leigh explained that the bill would allow automobile manufacturers to ramp up the level of octane in the engine fuel, allowing the engine to use that fuel more efficiently.

“We can use locally-grown, domestic sources for octane. And that’s what ethanol really is; it’s an octane for the fuel,” Leigh said.

The petroleum industry can actually benefit from ethanol, Leigh said, because “they can make a lower-base grade of fuel when they add the octane of the ethanol.”

“Ethanol is just a good way to stretch the fuels we use,” he said.

Mitchell said the Next Gen Act is sponsored by Cheri Bustos (D-IL).

Greenhouse gas emissions would be cut by 3-6%, according to Leigh, which he said is double what ethanol production cuts currently.

Leigh prefers this course of action over an overall push for electric vehicles. He attributed a lot of this to how cobalt and lithium, used to make batteries for EVs, are extracted from the earth and imported to the U.S.

He said if the bill passes, these cars would be ready in the next four years.

The full text of the bill can be found here:

The ethanol industry

“Illinois is going to capture more economic benefit if we are growing the corn here, making it into ethanol here and then either using that ethanol or exporting that ethanol,” Mitchell said.

Most of Illinois’ corn is field corn, according to Mitchell. She said roughly 27-30% of field corn is used for ethanol production, just below 50% is exported to other countries, and about 7% is used for feeding livestock. The remaining field corn goes to other products, including corn syrup, corn chips, tortillas, starch, diaper products, etc.

Finally, less than 1% of the corn crop is sweet corn, meant to be eaten as is.

Mitchell said the ethanol industry is not subsidized, and Leigh said ethanol plants are not federally funded.

Both Mitchell and Leigh said that there is more than enough corn to go around in Illinois, and it is feasible to ramp up the ethanol industry.

“Certainly, we have enough corn to produce more ethanol in Illinois,” Mitchell said.

It is in Illinois’ best interest to ramp up production, according to Mitchell.

“Illinois is going to capture more economic benefit if we are growing the corn here, making it into ethanol here and then either using that ethanol or exporting that ethanol,” she said.

Also, she said it doesn’t just support domestic manufacturing, but it helps economies at the local level.

“You’re helping your community,” she said.

Leigh complained the ethanol industry has been “demonized.” He claimed the Environmental Protection Agency only wants a full transition to EVs. However, he said the global conflict causing rising gas prices could help lawmakers reconsider.

“I think that this is a good place to start to bring that discussion back,” he said.

Ethanol in our cars

According to Mitchell, the Renewable Fuel Standard caps the amount of ethanol allowed in the gas drivers gets at the pump.

Currently, a lot of gas has up to 10% ethanol, called E10. However, Mitchell said studies show that cars made in 2001 or later can run fine with E15, or gas with 15% ethanol.

She said it is safe to put E15 in your cars, and it will save you money (Leigh said it is 70 cents to the dollar cheaper than petroleum gas). The problem, she said, is finding it, and said it is sometimes marketed as Unleaded 88.

E15 is not sold year-round, but Illinois lawmakers are hoping to change this.

A letter to President Joe Biden

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) joined Sen. John Thune (R-SD) in writing a bipartisan letter to the president. The letter was signed by multiple other senators, including Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).

The letter stated: “Wholesale ethanol has recently traded for approximately $1.20 cheaper than gasoline per gallon, a discount that is passed on to consumers and amplified in higher blends like E15, E30, and E85.”

The letter asked for administrative authority to permit the sale of E15 fuel over the 2022 summer driving season.

The full text can be found below: