API charges that E-15 blends will damage US fuel infrastructure

03 May 2012 18:21  [Source: ICIS news]

An ethanol plantWASHINGTON (ICIS)--US energy sector officials on Thursday charged that the Obama administration’s enthusiasm for biofuels has clouded policy decisions that could cause damage at thousands of retail gasoline stations, endanger public safety and the environment.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) said that a review of available studies suggests that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to authorise sale and use of 15% ethanol gasoline blends will put US fuelling infrastructure at risk.

Bob Greco, API’s director for downstream and industry operations, told a press conference that third-party testing of 15% ethanol blends, known as E-15, “shows this higher concentration would not be fully compatible with much of the dispensing and storage infrastructure at our nation’s gas stations”.

The US has been using E-10 blends for years, but the EPA approved sale of E-15 in staged decisions in October 2010 and January 2011 for automobiles manufactured in 2001 or later.

However, E-15 has not been authorised for earlier autos or for a variety of off-road vehicles, gasoline-powered tools, marine engines and other applications.

API and as many as 16 other manufacturing, trade and environmental groups have filed suits against the EPA, contending that the agency’s E-15 authorisations lack scientific justification and legal standing and that the higher ethanol blend will damage car engines and other equipment.

API said on Thursday that the E-15 blend also could cause widespread damage to a high percentage of the nation’s 157,000 retail gasoline stations.

Citing studies by national laboratories, the Department of Energy (DOE) and other federal agencies, API said that as many as 50% of the existing retail gasoline station pumps, pipes, connectors and storage tanks are not compatible with E-15.

The oil and gas trade group cited a 2010 study by the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) showing that 70% of existing US fuel dispensing equipment and 40% of newly installed systems had compatibility issues with E-15.

“EPA has not done its homework before introducing E-15 to America,” Greco said, adding:  “The agency’s enthusiasm for E-15 has clouded its judgement and lead to approval of a fuel before adequate study has been done.”

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), a US ethanol industry trade group, quickly challenged API’s report, saying that EPA’s analysis of E-15 issues was the most exhaustive testing of any fuel approved by the agency.

RFA spokesman Matt Hartwig noted that EPA’s E-15 use authorisation is not a mandate, and that retail fuel providers may be getting federal help through pending legislation to cover much of the cost of dispensing equipment upgrades.  A 2011 congressional study said that billions of dollars will have to be spent to upgrade US rail, truck, barge and retail infrastructure to meet federal biofuel mandates for 2015.

Hartwig also noted that the EPA has taken steps to ensure proper labelling of E-15 pumps and to prevent or limit consumer confusion and the potential for misfuelling, the use of E-15 in engines not approved for the blend.

Paul Hodges studies key influences shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By: Joe Kamalick
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