An interview with Ron Lamberty, Senior Vice President for the American Coalition for Ethanol.


By Keith Reid

The American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) is the nation’s grassroots ethanol advocacy organization, uniting ethanol producers, farmers, investors, cellulosic biofuel stakeholders and businesses. It advocates for public policies that support biofuels, develops new markets and infrastructure for ethanol and communicates the benefits of biofuels to policymakers, the media and the general public.

Ron Lamberty oversees ACE’s member and industry relations. He also directs ACE’s market development efforts, working with petroleum marketers to facilitate the use of ethanol nationwide.

He first worked in the industry in high school and college in a full-service gas station. He then worked for a convenience store chain starting in 1980, managing stations after he received his degree. He then worked for a jobber in South Dakota that also operated a number of c-stores and did ethanol blending, too. More than two decades ago he moved to ACE.


What’s the status of E85 today as a product?

Well, in some parts of the country it’s grown like crazy—California primarily. They’ve gone from selling probably single digit millions of gallons of E85 around 2011 to where now they’re over 100 million gallons. Nationwide, if you break down what was sold in the U.S. last year, we’re probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 million gallons overall. There are twice as many E85 locations as E15 locations right now.

The downside is that the automakers still make some flex-fuel vehicles, but you’ve got to know how to ask for them because they don’t market them very aggressively. There are maybe 20 million flex-fuel vehicles on the road, even if nobody’s selling them aggressively anymore. And that’s still quite a bit more than we’ve got in the fleet as far as electrics go.


How stable is the ethanol price?

If you’re a marketer—a blender who’s an obligated party—you have to turn that RIN in. And if you’re not, you can sell it. So, it’s kind of a rare instance where independent retailers and chains have an advantage over a refiner that I don’t think happens anywhere else in the industry. So the attractiveness from a wholesale standpoint is still there.

The feedstock that’s used to make ethanol tends to move with gas and oil prices. So it usually stays competitive.

We received some funds to do a study with the Department of Agriculture where they’re evaluating the practices farmers use and what that does for carbon. The ethanol plants have been doing all kinds of efficiency upgrades that have reduced their carbon scores. With carbon capture and sequestration, then you’re talking about situations where the ethanol score could go below zero. And they make ethanol out of the corn kernel fiber, instead of just the starch.


How does ethanol fit into a net-zero future?

There are some fuels out there that are very low carbon right now and could go lower.

Obviously, we make more sense for some parts of the country where charging stations aren’t as available. And even if they were, they would be far apart because you’re in a rural area and places where winter impacts battery storage. There’s a product that we make that might work just as well or better in terms of lowering the emissions of a vehicle. We’re trying to put scientific data down to show that our product creates some alternatives to just a strictly electric car future.

While an electric vehicle has zero tailpipe emissions, a battery is not a fuel source. The battery is a fuel tank, and the greenhouse gas emissions that accompany the charging of that fuel make a difference. If you’re in a part of the country where there’s still a high percentage of coal-fired electricity, or even natural gas, then you’ll have a carbon score that’s in line with a flex-fuel vehicle running on E85 today.


What needs to be done to get the message across? Frankly, the ethanol lobby’s never been shy about promoting its policy positions.

We don’t really fight against electric vehicles right now. I think most of the time, whether it’s media or Congress, they like to see a contest. And some of the people that helped us get the renewable fuel standard put together are the people who are pushing electric vehicles now.  And you risk irritating people who would otherwise support us.

I do think it is a widespread feeling by people who support lower carbon that if they aren’t singularly focused on battery-electric vehicles that they won’t happen or that they will happen too slowly. There’s just a resistance. It’s like they don’t even want to talk about other options.


What are some of the arguments in favor of liquid fuel that can be made?

You’ve got nearly 300 million internal-combustion vehicles, and what could be done with those vehicles to improve the environment for the next 15 to 25 years, and the other side of that, too? And if you’re ignoring them because you want to promote EVs, then are you really trying to do what’s best for the environment?

As we’re finding—and that may change now that some of the larger manufacturers are making them—the real concern is the price of the vehicles. They are too high for most people to even consider them. And even with big rebates, at some point they’re going to have to make those vehicles a lot less expensive.

We did our hybrid electric flex-fuel vehicle project where we converted a hybrid to be able to run on E85. Here’s an option that gets you some of what you want, gets me some of what I want and gets us both closer to having less carbon in the air.

I’ve seen things that give me some hope that maybe there’s going to be reason, but at the same time then you hear bolder and bolder proclamations that we’re going to go faster in terms of EVs. In the past I’ve seen that the louder the claims get, the more it’s usually an indication that the thing they want, they’re not getting. So they’re asking for even more, which is a strange combination, but it’s something that’s been done over the years when you have a plan and there were pieces of it that you thought would work differently than they end up working.