The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has granted a testing exemption to Renergie, Inc. to investigate the in-vehicle use of different blends of hydrous ethanol. Under the test program, the first of its kind in the US, Renergie will use variable blending pumps, not splash blending, to precisely dispense hydrous ethanol blends of E10, E20, E30, and E85 to test blend optimization with respect to fuel economy, engine emissions, and vehicle drivability. Sixty vehicles will be involved in the test program which will last for a period of 15 months.
In ethanol production, the “beer” resulting from the fermentation is processed in distillation columns where an azeotropic mixture of ethanol and water is separated out from the rest of the stillage. This product is referred to as hydrous ethanol—about 95% ethanol and 5% water. To be used as a supplementary blend in low levels with gasoline, this hydrous ethanol needs to be dehydrated, resulting in anhydrous ethanol.
Preliminary tests conducted in Europe have shown that the use of hydrous ethanol, which eliminates the need for the hydrous-to-anhydrous dehydration processing step, results in an energy savings of between 10-45% during processing, a 4% product volume increase, higher mileage per gallon, a cleaner engine interior, and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. (Earlier post.)
Hydrous ethanol is currently used in Brazil and Sweden, and hydrous E10-15 is currently being used under the European BEST project in the Rotterdam area.
In the US, the primary method for blending ethanol into gasoline is splash blending. The ethanol is splashed into the gasoline either in a tanker truck or sometimes into a storage tank of a retail station. Renergie believes the inaccuracy and manipulation of splash blending may be eliminated by precisely blending the ethanol and unleaded gasoline at the point of consumption, i.e., the point where the consumer puts E10, E20, E30 or E85 into his or her vehicle.
A variable blending pump would ensure the consumer that E10 means the fuel entering the fuel tank of the consumer’s vehicle is 10% ethanol (rather than the current arbitrary range of 4% ethanol to at least 24% ethanol that the splash blending method provides) and 90% gasoline.
In June 2008, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed into law the Advanced Biofuel Industry Development Initiative (Act 382) to develop an advanced biofuel industry in the state. The law supports a decentralized network of small advanced biofuel manufacturing facilities of between 5-15 million gallons per year, and also calls for the hydrous ethanol testing program. (Earlier post.)
Renergie was formed in 2006 for the original purpose of raising capital to develop, construct, own and operate a network of ten ethanol plants in the parishes of Louisiana which were devastated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Each ethanol plant is to have a production capacity of five million gallons per year (5 MGY) of fuel-grade ethanol. Renergie’s “field-to-pump” strategy is to produce non-corn (sorghum) ethanol locally and directly market non-corn ethanol locally.