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Senators Introduce Bill Mandating All US Gasoline Vehicles to Be FlexFuel

A bi-partisan group of US Senators—Dick Lugar (R-IN), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Barack Obama (D-IL)—have introduced a bill that would require all US-marketed gasoline-powered vehicles to be Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) within ten years.

The Fuel Security and Consumer Choice Act (S.1994) would require 10% of vehicles sold in the US be FFVs capable of using either gasoline or ethanol blends of up to 85% (E85) within 18 months of passage.

Our addiction to oil is most acute in the U.S. transportation sector where a stunning ninety-seven percent of our fuel comes from petroleum—97 percent. In the electricity sector we have largely turned away from oil but not so in transportation.

In Brazil, all new vehicles on the road are expected to be flex-fuel-ready by 2008—meaning every new vehicle owner will have the choice to fill up with gasoline, ethanol, or a combination of the two. If the Brazilians can do it, why can't we?

—Senator Harkin, sponsor S. 1994

The legislation also establishes an FFV credit market, allowing automakers who exceed minimum requirements for making flex-fuel vehicle to sell credits to other automobile manufacturers.

The bill would leave intact the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) credits for FFV production, but it changes the way the credits are calculated for vehicles produced above the required percentages.

Rather than keeping the assumption that the vehicle runs 50 percent of the time on fuel like E85, which isn’t an appropriate figure since most don’t run yet on E85, we phase-down the assumed use from 50 percent in the first model year the requirement applies to 30 percent in the second year, 10 percent the third year, and 0 percent thereafter. This should still spur interest among automakers in the early years of the requirement to go beyond the minimum FFV production levels outlined in the bill to get the extra credits. And in the meantime the FFV requirement is kicking in and the ramp up of FFVs won’t dilute or weaken CAFE.

—Sen. Harkin

The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.



100% seems high. Is the idea to set up for a compramise?

I mean, 10% of vehicles sold might be enough to really encourage ethanol or blend stations to propagate. 30% would really stimulate.

Is 100% necessary? Reasonable? Even in Maine or Florida or Hawaii or Alaska? I mean, sure it's easy transportation and climate wise for the midwest -- but for everyone? I'm not so sure.

I am thrilled they're seeking to ramp down the CAFE formula... that's been a huge loophole for years.

Jeff Harbert

From a manufacturing standpoint, the cost of converting a vehicle to be flex-fuel capable is pretty low. GM and Ford have been making E85 capable vehicles for many years now. The problem is not the lack of flex-fuel vehicles, the problem is the lack of availablity of E85. E85 is not available in all states. Even in states that do have E85, the fueling stations are few and far between.

Our Congress sure does love to tackle problems from the wrong direction.



I know some states are proposing legislation that would require "alternative fuels" to be available in their states. A recent proposal was introduced in Massachusetts like this, I'm not sure if it has been enacted yet.


Where is the well documented, convincing case that ethanol will solve our oil problems? Without that case, I don't believe there should be any incentives for ethanol. This is mostly pork (or corn) politics, as usual.

Tripp Bisop

Right now biofuels are the only alternative to petroleum that are economically viable in any sense of the word. Coupled with hybrid technologies they make even more sense. The most effective way to solve this problem, though, is with energy efficient vehicles. As Eng-Poet pointed out in another thread using E85 in 15MPG gas guzzlers will be a miserable failure. The biofuels will never be able to displace a reasonable percentage of our oil consumption if everyone drives H2s. Someone (I think in the ANWR thread) mentioned that if we doubled vehicle efficiency from 18 to 36 MPG we could cut out 33% of our oil imports. I don't think that we'll ever to that with biofuels...


I dont think we should be going for 1 energy solution, there isn't one at this time. Biofules will probably never fuel all of our vehicals, but if they can help displace even 10% of imported oil that would be very helpful. Combine that with hybrid technology and improvements in the standard engine and we'll atleast make some progress. There are many ways to increase fuel efficiency, the people just need to demand them.

Jesse Jenkins

"Where is the well documented, convincing case that ethanol will solve our oil problems?"

I'd go here for a shorter slideshow style summary of the ethanol debate and here for a very detailed and of course well documented well-to-wheels analysis of over a dozen different fuel pathways comparing energy input, petrolum and fossil input, ghg emissions and criteria pollutant emissions. The two are from the Argonne National Labs and both are from this year and look at cellulosic ethanol which blows corn ethanol right out of the water.

In summary, cellulosic ethanol sees an ~60% higher energy input but ~60% lower petroleum input and ~65% lower GHG emissions. It does however see increases in criteria pollutant emissions over gasoline engines (I'm not sure yet exactly where these come from but I believe they are from the farming side, not the tank to wheels side, they could hopefully be reduced through a concerted effort). Anyway, the potential to cut both petroleum use AND greenhouse gas emissions by 2/3rds is nothing to scoff at. Couple cellulosic ethanol with an increase in average fleet fuel efficiency to 45-55 mpg and the eventual use of plug-in hybrids and we could likely entirely eliminate our petroleum use in transportation.

Read the reports and you'll find your answers. It's time we stop buying Pimentel's crap unequestionably and started to really look at the numbers.


I've been using USDA's 1.34:1 "crap" instead, and corn-derived E85 is still not worth squat as a remedy for oil imports.  Maybe cellulosic ethanol is, I'm downloading those papers now.  (There might be bloggage later, watch my post queue for hints.)

Here's something to chew on:  corn yields 390,000 BTU/bu, and at 150 bu/ac you get 58.5 million BTU/ac.  Convert to ethanol at 220,000 BTU/bu and burn in an engine at 17% efficiency, and you get 5.61 million BTU/ac of work.

Suppose you forget the grain and deal with the 2.5 tons/ac of excess leaves, stalks and cobs (stover) instead.  At 15.8 million BTU/ton, this is 39.5 million BTU/ac.  If you can convert it to metallic zinc at even 25% efficiency, that's 9.88 million BTU/ac; if the zinc is used in an Electric Fuel zinc-air cell (62% efficient), you get 6.12 million BTU of work out.  And you still have ALL the corn left!

Somebody needs to hit these senators over the head with hard figures.  Feeding more fuel to internal combustion engines is the road to ruin.


I think having vehicles with the ability to run on Ethanol is a good thing (they can also run regular gas). It only gives us, as a country, more options and it doesn't cost beans to put in a car.

Once worldwide oil production peaks (and that is coming sooner or later), people will be scrambling for anything that runs something other than a petro-oil product (because of how expensive oil/gas will become at that point). Having vehicles with this FlexFuel option in place is much better than having a nation of totally oil dependant vehicles.

Brazil's cost to make ethanol is about $.80 a gallon, here in the U.S. its $1.25 - $1.75 gallon for corn based production. I'd like to have the option of filling my car up with that. I just want the option.


Scott - I hate to have too tell you this but world-wide oil production peaked several years ago.

I agree with my brother that we need to start making the transition to one fuel - BioDiesel.

The infrastructure is in place and it will not only be painless to do that, it will be an enormous benefit to our environment.


Biodiesel has the same ultimate problem as ethanol:  where do you get the feedstock to substitute for 179 billion gallons/year of motor fuel?  You'll boost thermal efficiency, but probably not by enough.

The problem with bioFUELS is that they rely on the same internal combustion engines.  17% efficiency doesn't cut it.  Even 35% efficiency isn't enough.  We need more like 60% (Zn-air cells) to 95% (Li-ion batteries).

tom deplume

No matter how much we try exhaust treatments gasoline is still a dirty fuel compared to ethanol. The cleanest liquid to pour in our tanks would be 180 proof moonshine. The high antiknock property of ethanol means a higher compression ratio could be used to offset its lower energy density. Ethanol's oxygen content reduces unburned HC dramatically while the water content eliminates all NOx production.

tom deplume

No matter how much we try exhaust treatments gasoline is still a dirty fuel compared to ethanol. The cleanest liquid to pour in our tanks would be 180 proof moonshine. The high antiknock property of ethanol means a higher compression ratio could be used to offset its lower energy density. Ethanol's oxygen content reduces unburned HC dramatically while the water content eliminates all NOx production.


Probably of interest to people, there was a hearing in the Senate today on "Public Policy Options for Encouraging Alternative Automotive Fuel Technologies."

You can read each presenters remarks here:


Does anybody else notice that the bill was introduced by senators from from Indiana and Iowa, both major ethanol producers. How about also lifting the ban on ethanol imports. They wouldn't like that now would they?


Could science genetically modify corn to grow faster and perhaps give off more energy? Is this an avenue that's been explored?

What about mixing ethanol with hydrogen for more power and efficiency?

Eduardo Correa

I live in Brazil and here we already have the bifuel cars for almost 3 years. More than 55% of all cars produced here are bifuel - RIGHTNOW. It is estimated that by 2007 all cars will be bifuel.
It is not the nirvana solution to the oil problem, but it has been providing us an real and clean alternative - rightnow.

In the 70`s we already tried the ethanol solution, but everytime the sugar price was higher than the etanol, producers used to stop the etanol production to receive better profits. A lot of people that bought those cars, were left behind with their empty tanks.

Since than Brasilians were very afraid about having etanol cars. But with the bifuel car, we do not have to scare. Every time I go to gas station I check the prices. If the etanol is about 60% or less of the price of Gasoline, I buy all etanol I can have. (Usually it is below that).

The emission almost does not smell. For winter days, the car have a 0,5 l. compartiment that is used to start the engine. This tech is generatin a lot of jobs and a lot of enormous green areas with sugar cane plantations.

I think it is great to have another option to choose from, without enormous batteries, in a normal car, with less money spent, and most important - RIGHTNOW.


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