News & Events


Energy in the News: Friday, November 20

Should the US end the ethanol mandate?

Wall Street Journal, feat. John DeCicco

The Renewable Fuel Standard, otherwise known as the ethanol mandate, requires refiners to blend an increasing amount of biofuels into the U.S. gasoline supply each year.

Created in 2005, the standard was meant to help reduce carbon emissions as well as U.S. dependence on foreign oil. But critics question how much it has helped on either score. Some say corn ethanol, the fuel most commonly blended with gasoline under the standard, actually worsens pollution. Others say the domestic oil boom has done far more to wean the nation off foreign oil.

In May, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed scaling back the volume targets for renewable fuels under the mandate, in part because advances in fuel efficiency mean drivers are using less gas than the law envisioned. The agency also cited limited availability of renewable fuels made from products other than corn.

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Ethanol ruling would have big Indiana impact

Indystar, feat. John DeCicco

In the decade since the federal government has required ethanol be blended into gasoline, Indiana’s ethanol industry has prospered.

Ethanol plants in the state have increased from one to 14, most of them in rural communities that often struggle with job creation.

The state now ranks 5th for ethanol production. Hoosier farmers are benefiting from a new market for their corn, with about one-third of the state crop converted into ethanol. And the federal government recently announced Indiana is getting nearly $1 million to help install 110 new ethanol pumps around the state to increase the availability of gas with higher amounts of ethanol than the standard 10 percent blend.

But the Renewable Fuel Standard program created by Congress is in a transition period – and under attack.

The amount of ethanol blended into fuel for cars, trucks and other vehicles is supposed to increase each year. But the Environmental Protection Agency, which can adjust the requirements based on market conditions, has run into “real-world limitations” in meeting the higher levels set by Congress.

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U-M announces $2.7M project with federal government to study connected vehicles

MLive, feat. Peter Sweatman, John DeCicco

As research continues at the University of Michigan to better understand Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAVs), the federal government is partnering with U-M to highlight ways the vehicles can improve efficiencies.

On Wednesday, the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office announced a $2.7 million partnership with U-M’s Mobility Transformation Center (MTC) to better understand the benefits and challenges with connect vehicles.

The project will include research conducted on 500 privately owned vehicles in the Ann Arbor area to test how they are driven, how fast and where. Information will also be gathered on energy consumption and how drivers interact with the technologies in the vehicles.

The vehicles will be equipped to collect the information needed for the study. According to a release from the Department of Energy, the study “may include both personal and commercial light duty vehicles, with a focus on hybrid electric and plug-in electric vehicles.”

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Michigan Engineering feat. Krista Wiggington

The flush toilet and wastewater treatment have lengthened lives by 20 years, writes Rose George in “The Big Necessity: the Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why it Matters.” It’s no wonder that in a world where more than 2 billion people don’t have access to sanitation, many view this Western approach as ideal.

But a growing number of researchers point out that it’s not perfect. The “flush and forget” system, which has barely changed in the past century, demands tremendous amounts of water, energy and money. Despite that, it doesn’t return water to the ecosystem in the same condition it started. The “effluent” that treatment plants discharge is still studded with pollutants like chemicals from our shampoos and shaving cream, pharmaceuticals and their byproducts, and extra nutrients from the food we eat.

“I think we can do better,” said Krista Wigginton, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Michigan. She is leading a Water Environment Research Foundation project that takes a bold approach that could help curtail a host of the unintended consequences of how we handle human waste.

In the first large-scale pilot project of its kind in the nation, the researchers are testing whether they can safely make fertilizer for food crops out of disinfected human urine.

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