U.S. Department of Agriculture

Soon across Iowa, the Midwest, and parts of the west and south, it will be more convenient for drivers to fill their tanks with ethanol-blended gasoline. The USDA is providing $100 million in matching grants to 21 states, to expand the number of pumps that can dispense gasoline with higher blends of the bio fuel.

Photo by Grant Gerlock/Harveset Public Media

The federal government’s complex set of rules meant to spur a renewable fuels industry has fallen behind one of its main goals: cut greenhouse emissions from gasoline.

Nearly a decade after the rules were drafted, low-carbon fuels have yet to arrive. The Environmental Protection Agency says it will propose tweaks to the nation’s ethanol policy by June 1, and the changes will mark a crucial point for the next generation of biofuels, which have so far failed to flourish.

Photo by Emily Guerin/Inside Energy


Ethanol is one of the most important industries in the Midwest, and it’s an industry about to change. The U.S. EPA says that by June 1 it will propose new targets for the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS, which dictates the amount of ethanol the oil industry has to blend into our gasoline.

The RFS has three main goals: prop up rural economies, reduce dependence on foreign oil and reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation sector.

Amy Mayer/Iowa Public Radio file photo

Under pressure from the courts, the Environmental Protection Agency has issued a timeline for when it will finalize renewable fuel volume requirements. The agency has yet to finalize its 2014 proposed amounts, which disappointed many in corn country.

Corn growers and fuel manufacturers need to know what the government requires under the Renewable Fuel Standard. Two petroleum groups brought a lawsuit against the EPA because of missed deadlines for those announcements. The agency has now released its intended timelines for 2014, 2015 and 2016.


Agricultural equipment manufacturing companies across the Midwest are downsizing their work force. After nearly one thousand layoffs last October, another round will sideline an additional thousand workers. Deere and Company has announced 910 layoffs. Black Hawk Engineering in Cedar Falls will idle 40 workers, and Unverferth Manufacturing near Shell Rock will sideline 48 employees.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Ethanol advocates made the case for preserving the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) on Tuesday in front of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Without the RFS, advocates say, the ethanol industry will be quashed – and corn farmers and rural communities will pay the price. But many agricultural economists argue that lowering the ethanol mandate won’t be a huge blow to the rural economy.

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

A decade ago ethanol was touted as an eco-friendly biofuel that would not only decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil, but also boost the Midwest's economy. Today however, ethanol’s future is a matter of debate.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed reducing the ethanol mandate for the nation’s fuel supply. Many Iowa and around Midwest believe a reduction to the RFS would be economically devastating. 

Daniel Hoherd

So far this year, Des Moines has reported eight home invasions; the number coming very close to the eleven home invasions reported over the course of the entire previous year (2013).

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

A steady stream of semi-trailers rolls across the scales at the E Energy ethanol plant near the town of Adams in southeast Nebraska. The smokestack behind the scale house sends up a tall plume of white steam. The sweet smell of fermenting corn is in the air.

E Energy buys 65 million bushels of corn each day from area farmers and turns it into 65 million gallons of ethanol each year.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Something farmers often call “trash” could be a new cash crop in 2014. Two cellulosic ethanol plants are expected to begin operations in the coming year, one near Nevada and the other in Emmetsburg. They will create ethanol from the leaves, stalks and cobs of the corn plant, rather than the grain. And that means farmers will be able to sell the residue left on the field after harvest to the energy producers. Iowa State University agronomy professor Rick Cruse says cellulosic production could eventually expand to accept other raw materials.

Stefanie Seskin

Nearly all gasoline sold in the U.S. contains up to 10 percent of ethanol—a corn-based liquid often added to gasoline. As a renewable fuel ethanol reduces the amount of petroleum-based gasoline on the market and many farmers receive subsidies to grow corn for the biofuel. But now the Environmental Protection Agency is considering a reduction in the required amount of ethanol for the country's gasoline supply.  Harvest Public Media's Ames-based reporter Amy Mayer and host Ben Kieffer discuss the future of ethanol in the U.S.

Sarah McCammon

Critics are challenging an investigative report by the Associated Press that says ethanol production is damaging the environment. As Iowa Public Radio’s Clay Masters reports, the debate comes as the Environmental Protection Agency is getting closer to finalizing how much ethanol will be blended into gasoline in 2014. 

Putting the I in Iowa

Sep 2, 2013
Pat Blank

Adamu Muhammad came to Iowa from Nigeria in 2008 through the U.S. Embassy Achievers Program that helps promising low income students apply to American colleges and universities.  His academic prowess in science and math got him noticed by Waverly's Wartburg  College. Muhammad graduated last August and after a few months at a soil testing lab in Ames, he found a job in Hartley. He works as a chemist at an ethanol plant with a shift that has him working seven days on and seven days off. He's decided in that spare time he'd like to see all of Iowa's 99 counties.

Dean Borg / IPR

 Iowa’s ultra-high ethonal, E-85, fuel pumps are increasingly popular. Iowa Public Radio’s Dean Borg reports.

Ethanol debate looks beyond short term gain

Nov 12, 2012
Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

Livestock producers want to press pause on the federal mandate for corn-based ethanol. They’re seeking relief from corn prices pushed up by the drought. But as Harvest Public Media’s Grant Gerlock reports, this short-term debate has broader implications. 

Jeremy Bernfeld / Harvest Public Media

Head to your local filling station and you might see a new blend of gas at the pump. After a three-year regulatory process, the Environmental Protection Agency approved E15 – gas made with 15 percent ethanol – this summer.

Most gas we pump is already blended with ethanol, sometimes it contains as much as 10 percent, but the ethanol industry fought hard to bring E15 to the market. For ethanol backers and the farmers who feed the ethanol industry, getting drivers to pump gas with 50 percent more ethanol is a big win.