Too soon for higher US ethanol blends in ordinary cars – GM

16 February 2010 05:01  [Source: ICIS news]

ORLANDO, Florida (ICIS news)--More technical work needs to be done before higher US ethanol blends for ordinary vehicles can be contemplated, especially given the risk of turning sentiment against the biofuel if it causes engine problems, an official at car maker General Motors (GM) said on Monday.

"We are very strong proponents of ethanol, but done correctly," said Tom Stephens, GM's vice chairman for global product operations.

"It's so important that we provide the right fuel for each vehicle on the road," Stephens told a news conference ahead of the National Ethanol Conference in Orlando, Florida.

The US ethanol industry has been eager to get car makers to give warranty coverage for drivers who use ethanol blends higher than the 10% standard known as E10 because domestic ethanol production is poised to saturate the E10 market.

GM produces flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs) that use an 85% ethanol blend called E85, but those vehicles face difficulty winning acceptance because there are relatively few service stations offering that higher blend.

Sensitivities about car warranties have been heightened by the extensive and overwhelmingly negative publicity in the US surrounding Japanese car maker Toyota's recent massive vehicle recall.

Stephens said that higher ethanol blends than E10 can cause problems in ordinary vehicles such as corrosion and damage to cylinder heads, and warned that such issues could trigger big trouble for the biofuel.

"The pain that could happen from a customer perspective could really cause a backlash," Stephens said.

While it would be technically possible in future to manufacture vehicles that could handle the higher blends, the problem is with the existing US car fleet especially given the potential safety hazards because the fuel system is involved, Stephens said.

GM has been participating in tests of older vehicles and submitting the results to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but company officials at the news conference downplayed hopes that there might be any progress on the issue soon.

"Durability testing by definition takes a long time," one GM official noted.

The National Ethanol Conference is sponsored by the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) and formally begins on Tuesday.

 For more on ethanol, visit ICIS chemical intelligence
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By: Stephen Burns
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