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POET CEO meets with EPA administrator and Vilsack

DANIEL LOOKER 04/21/2011 @ 1:31pm Business Editor

When Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson visited Iowa earlier this week, they showed their support for biofuels by visiting the Renewable Energy Group biodiesel plant in Newton, Iowa.

They also met with several industry leaders, including Jeff Broin, CEO of the Sioux Falls-based ethanol company, POET.

The meeting was  closed to the media, but Broin later told Agriculture.com that “it went really well. We talked about E15 and the additional hurdles we have to get over.”

EPA has already approved E15 as a fuel that’s safe for automobiles made for the 2001 model year and newer. And Vilsack has authorized USDA funding to help pay for blender pumps that could dispense higher levels of ethanol than 10%.

Among the barriers to higher ethanol blends is ethanol’s effect on Reid Vapor Pressure. Ethanol itself doesn’t have a high vapor pressure, but when added to gasoline, it increases the vapor pressure beyond the levels considered safe for smog prevention during summer months. In 2002 Congress granted E10 a one pound pressure waiver but it hasn’t yet done so for E15.

Also, the private nonprofit safety rating agency, Underwriters Laboratories, Inc., has not approved pumps for pumping E15, Broin said.

“The pumps the UL claims can’t pump E15 today have been pumping E85 for years,” Broin said.

The UL issue may be beyond EP’s power to change but Broin said he believes the agency could grant a vapor pressure waiver on its own administratively.

E15 isn’t getting the same level of support in Congress that it has at EPA. Last February the House voted to restrict EPA spending on putting new labels for E15 into effect and it voted to prevent USDA from supporting blender pumps. That legislation didn’t become law in the latest spending compromise between the House and Senate.

“It’s amazing to me that we’re once again seeing record oil prices, yet some in Congress want to cut assistance to renewable fuels,” Broin said.

Broin also reminded the visitors of POET’s developing business of selling corn oil from its ethanol plants to biodiesel makers such as REG.

“We recapped POET’s commitment to adding corn oil capacity at all of our facilities nationwide over the next one to one-and-a-half years,” Broin said. That would be enough to make an additional 60 million gallons of biodiesel.

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