What is “the blend wall” and why does it matter?

I happened to be passing by the TV the other night, and heard some ranting by a particular Presidential hopeful who promised to “tear down the blend wall”.

We should be incensed at such an incredible pile of ignorance! Yet people were applauding. Ay, yi, yi…

This is such a simple thing, and someone who wants to be a leader putting such gross ignorance on display makes my head hurt. He must have said it because it sounds good, perhaps imagining himself to be some incarnation of Ronald Regan. But at least Regan had his facts straight.

This is really a simple thing; let me show you:

Back in the Bush era, the EPA was convinced by Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) that we should blend corn-based ethanol into our gasoline motor fuels. Reduce our dependency on foreign oil! Give farmers a guaranteed return on their crops! Sounds like a great idea, right? But there are a few problems with this.

  1. Ethanol is corrosive. In any concentration, particularly anything higher than 10%, it tends to ‘eat’ fuel system parts, with the chemical byproducts passing through and damaging not only automobile engines, but outdoor power equipment. Your lawn mower, my tractor, my gas trimmer, they’re all at risk of the fuel systems being wrecked from ethanol. If you try to use more ethanol (a higher percentage) in your fuels, then many more parts – internal parts – in the engines will be wrecked.
  2. In the US, we together all use a certain average volume of gasoline motor fuel each year. It changes a bit with the seasons and with consumers’ car and power equipment buying habits. But it doesn’t change much.
  3. You just can’t blend more than 10% ethanol into our fuels, as stated above. Automobile manufacturers categorically state this, and have put together a powerful lobby against change from their side. Because everyone’s engines – yours and mine – will literally be trashed by too high a percentage of ethanol.

We take these factors, and now you can see that because we only use so much gasoline motor fuel, there is only a certain volume of ethanol which can be used in motor fuel blends. No more than this.

In simpler terms, think of a can of gasoline. This represents the US average use in a year. Now add 10% ethanol to it. You can’t add any more, because the total volume is fixed. There’s just plain nowhere for it to go.

This is what’s known as “the blend wall”.

Now you understand that trying to exceed it is irresponsible and ignorant of the damage you will do to everyone’s cars and trucks.

Yours and mine.

Look, as I’ve said a number of times: I’ll never tell you how to vote, but just to think about what you’re voting for.


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