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Wider variety of ethanol blends on the way, DOE official says

E10 doesn't have a lot of biofuel in it. E85 is tough to find. So why not E30?

There's a lot of room between E10 and E85, says Alexander Karsner.

Karsner, the assistant secretary of energy efficiency and renewable energy at the Department of Energy, says that there needs to be a greater variety of gas-ethanol blends. E10 has only 10 percent ethanol, and in some states E10 contains only 2 percent to 3 percent ethanol, he said during a meeting with reporters at the Dow Jones Alternative Energy Innovations conference taking place in Redwood City, Calif.

George Bush and the ethanol racecar
In his State of the Union address in January, President Bush called for more research into alternative fuels. A month later, he took time for a photo op with this ethanol racecar at a North Carolina biotech company. White House photo by Paul Morse

On the other end of the spectrum there is E85. E85, however, is sold in only one-third of 1 percent of gas stations nationwide. (E10 can fit into conventional pumps.) If forced to carry more E85, gas stations would figure out how to adjust their supply chains to handle it, but it might be easier to concoct new blends.

In Brazil, for instance, the lowest blend is E22, which contains 22 percent ethanol. E15 can be inserted, and pumped out of, conventional gas pumps in the U.S.

"Can you grow that market more with intermediate blends?" Karsner asked rhetorically. He then stated: "It is not going to be just E10 and E85."

Other notes from Karsner:

The administration is going to lay out more details on a long-term energy proposal on November 5. One idea will be "National Interest Corridors" or "clean energy superhighways." In these, large sections of the Midwest could become wind farms that supply power for distant metropolises. It will take a lot of work, particularly in making better and less expensive transmission lines. Property owners are tough, too.

"We are always fighting NIMBY (the "not in my back yard" state of mind)," he said.

He's a big supporter of geothermal, but doesn't believe it can provide 20 percent of the United States' electrical power, as some have asserted.

The DOE labs will focus a lot of energy in the future on energy storage (for instance, batteries) and solid state lighting. In the relatively near future, the department will show off a solid-state light that surpasses the efficiency of compact fluorescent lights.

For those of you who have clean-tech business plans, the DOE has loans for you too. The agency has committed to freeing up $13 billion, or half of its budget, to loans for businesses with low-carbon and carbon-free products or operations.