Lamberty Report: UL Repeating History by Revising History
by Ron Lamberty
A couple of years ago, after a decade of saying nothing about the hundreds of E85 pumps installed across the country, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) issued a decree that there was no such thing as a “UL Approved” E85 dispenser. In announcing the development of a new E85 standard (and a new, expensive test that pump manufacturers must pay UL to perform), UL mentioned that this new standard was not the result of, nor were they aware of, any complaints or equipment failures associated with E85.
Some found it curious that UL waited to create a standard until more than 1,000 gas stations had installed E85 pumps, U.S. automakers had built several million FFVs, and E85 was all over the media. Perhaps the greater concern should have been that UL didn’t “protect us” a little bit sooner – if there was truly a risk.
But cynics wondered if all the E85 buzz caused UL to see a financial opportunity in the money that could be made running new tests on E85 pumps that had been working just fine. Whatever the reason, UL created standard UL 87A, for “devices for gasoline/ethanol blends with ethanol content greater than 15 percent.”
That definition in UL87A would lead one to believe that a standard existed for ethanol content up to 15 percent. It did – it’s called “UL 87,” and it’s made up of underlying parts standards containing phrases like “ethanol does not exceed 15 percent” and “gasoline with up to 15 percent ethanol.” Looking at both UL87 and UL87A, it’s easy to see how folks would assume that “up to 15 percent” means, well, up to 15 percent.
Not so, says UL. In a “clarification” issued last month, they said 15 percent was a “safety margin,” and although ”some subassemblies have been tested with fuels containing 15 percent ethanol… that does not mean that those dispensers are certified to dispense fuels containing greater than 10 percent ethanol.”
In other words, “up to 15 percent” doesn’t really mean “up to 15 percent.” It apparently means 10 percent.
Perhaps UL is truly worried that the equipment that passed their 15 percent ethanol test wouldn’t pass a real-world 15 percent test, and the extra percent or two or three would gas station Armageddon. More likely they’re falling in line with others who deter progress by spending billions overanalyzing and rejecting the very good in search of the perfect.
And cynics will wonder if this revision of UL history has something to do with the financial opportunity of re-testing every gas pump in America – for the same 15 percent ethanol blend it was already certified to handle. We had better hope UL’s motives are more noble.