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10/14/2010 11:50 AM     print story email story  

EPA Approves E15 Ethanol Blend for New Vehicles News

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday waived a limitation on selling fuel that is more than 10% ethanol for model year 2007 and newer cars and light trucks.

The waiver applies to fuel that contains up to 15% ethanol--known as E15--and only to model year 2007 and newer cars and light trucks. Since 1979, up to 10% ethanol or E10 has been used for all conventional cars and light trucks, and non-road vehicles.

The ethanol industry has been pressuring EPA to raise the so-called "blending wall" to 15% for all light vehicles in an effort to expand demand for the biofuel. 

Some environmental groups are opposed to the increased blending levels, stating that emissions testing has not been completed to determine whether or not the increased level of ethanol will worsen air quality. In addition, some groups are opposed to creating a bigger market for ethanol, which is primarily produced from corn in the U.S., a process which dubious, if not harmful, environmental outcomes.

EPA said it will make a decision concerning approval for 2001 to 2006 model-year cars after the industry receives data from additional Department of Energy tests. Those tests are due to be completed next month.

A decision on the use of E15 in model year 2001 to 2006 vehicles will be made after EPA receives the results of additional DOE testing, which is expected to be completed in November. However, no waiver is being granted this year for E15 use in model year 2000 and older cars and light trucks--or in any motorcycles, heavy-duty vehicles, or non-road engines--because currently there is not testing data to support such a waiver.

"This represents the first of a number of actions that are needed from federal, state and industry towards commercialization of E15 gasoline blends," EPA said in a release.

Ethanol group Growth Energy is one of the groups that petitioned the EPA for raising the blending wall. Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis said: "Today's approval of E15 for newer vehicles is the first crack in the blend wall in more than 30 years, and proves what was laid out in Growth Energy's Green Jobs Waiver--that E15 is a good fuel for American motorists. And while this is an important first step, there are many more steps we can take toward strengthening our national security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil, creating jobs here in the United States and improving our environment."

"The EPA's decision is premature and irresponsible," said Kate McMahon, biofuels campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth. "While today's ruling limits E15 to use in newer engines for the time being, the agency has yet to conclude comprehensive scientific testing on the long-term engine safety and pollution impacts of increased ethanol in gasoline - period."

Perhaps the biggest obstacle facing the adoption of E15 is infrastructure retrofits and gas stations. If E15 is not approved for all vehicles, stations would need to have separate pumps and storage capacity. 

EPA is proposing E15 pump labeling requirements, including a requirement that the fuel industry specify the ethanol content of gasoline sold to retailers. There would also be a quarterly survey of retail stations to help ensure their gas pumps are properly labeled.

However, the cost of upgrades could keep many stations from installing E15 equipment. According to a Greentech Media article, only 2,300 of the 170,000 gas stations in the U.S. have installed equipment to handle E85 (an 85% blend of ethanol that can power Flex-Fuel Vehicles.) Costs of retrofitting for E85 equipment is estimated at between $22,000 and $80,000 per gas station.

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