E-15 ethanol blends cause no harm to older cars - study

15 September 2010 19:40  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--A 15% ethanol blend in US gasolines would cause no performance issues for older automobiles and consequently poses no obstacle to a federal mandate for general distribution of E-15 fuels, an engineering group said on Wednesday.

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) issued an engineering study by Ricardo Inc concluding that “the adoption of E-15 as the blend limit for standard US pump grades of gasoline should not adversely affect” older cars.

The analysis by the London, UK-based engineering firm also said that “raising the blend ceiling to E-15 is likely to have negligible impact on vehicles manufactured between 1994 and 2000”.

The study came as the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was about to announce a decision on a petition filed by US biofuels producers, who want the existing E-10 ethanol blend ceiling raised to E-15.

US oil producers and refiners have argued that the EPA does not have sufficient scientific basis for raising the ethanol blend limit and that E-15 fuels could damage older automobiles and engines used by off-road vehicles and hand-held powered equipment.

The agency has indicated that it might authorise retail sale of E-15 fuels but only for newer vehicles manufactured in and since 2001.

Refiners warn that even such a partial approval for E-15 would cause a logistical and distribution nightmare and that some consumers would inevitably end up with the wrong fuel blend in their cars or equipment.

The renewable fuels industry favours a general EPA approval for E-15 fuels, in part because they say that boost to US consumption of corn-ethanol is necessary to save the financially struggling biofuels industry.

Proponents also argue that the higher ethanol fuel blend would provide a demand-driven financial incentive to hoped-for commercial production of cellulosic ethanol made from non-food agricultural feedstocks.

Autos manufactured between 1994 and 2000 number nearly 63m and represent 25% of passenger and light-truck vehicles now on US roads, according to RFA and Ricardo.

“This analysis provides conclusive evidence for the EPA that there is no reason to limit the availability of  E-15 to newer vehicles only,” said RFA president Bob Dinneen.

He said that the Ricardo analysis along with others done by the Department of Energy (DOE) and private studies “shows that there are no significant issues with the use of E-15 in virtually all vehicles on  the road today”.

The EPA indicated earlier that it expected to have a decision on the E-15 petition by the end of this month, which is when the results of a DOE study of the E-15 issue also are expected.

Refiners and a broad coalition of other industries recently urged Congress to convene immediate hearings on the E-15 issue, arguing that EPA should further postpone its decision until the legislature can complete its inquiry.

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