E15 Waiver Formally Brought to EPA
by Kristin Brekke
The chorus calling for the government to raise the base fuel blend beyond E10 has reached a formal pitch, making an official request to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that up to 15 percent ethanol be allowed in gasoline.
The March 6 waiver application was filed by Growth Energy on behalf of 52 U.S. ethanol producers, along with the American Coalition for Ethanol, the Renewable Fuels Association, the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition, and several cellulosic ethanol companies.
“Allowing the use of mid-level blends of ethanol in America’s existing fleet of vehicles would bring an array of benefits, including the creation of good jobs, ensuring a market for next-generation biofuels, and providing more cost-effective choices at the pump for consumers,” said Brian Jennings, Executive Vice President of ACE. “The current arbitrary cap of 10 percent ethanol per gallon of gasoline is stalling growth in America’s green energy sector and unnecessarily limiting progress toward energy independence.”
During his remarks that day at the National Press Club, Growth Energy co-chairman General Wesley Clark noted that increasing the base blend to E15 would create 136,101 new jobs and inject $24.4 billion into the American economy annually.
“Thirty years ago, the EPA allowed the 10 percent blend based on much less scientific evidence than we have today, and we now have years of driving experience showing that our cars’ performance is not affected,” General Clark said in a press statement. “Raising the cap up to E15 is supported by sound science. If the EPA acts swiftly, a higher blend of ethanol will help us jumpstart the economy while further reducing our dependence on foreign oil. I hope the EPA will approve this request expeditiously.”
Growth Energy’s press statement quoted Michael Harrigan, a former Ford engineer and independent automotive consultant, who believes there are no technical problems standing in the way of E15 use in standard vehicles.
“As a fuel systems expert with nearly 30 years of experience in the automotive industry, I can state with confidence that research-approved E15 is completely acceptable for use in our cars,” Harrigan said. “Vehicle fuel systems have been upgraded over the last 30 years to meet U.S. regulations by rigorous testing against aggressive laboratory test fuels. These upgrades began in the ‘80s which makes virtually all of the U.S. legacy fleet fully capable of handling this relatively small change in marketplace fuel.”
Mid-range blends beat the “blend wall”
The consumption of renewable fuel in the United States will soon be colliding with the “E10 blend wall,” a mathematical and practical limitation on use of ethanol in gasoline. In the coming year, nearly every gallon of gas that could contain ethanol will contain ethanol, leaving no room for more renewable fuel use.
But the use of more renewable fuel is exactly what is called for by the 2007 energy bill’s Renewable Fuels Standard. The RFS calls for 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel use nationwide by 2022, which represents far more than 10 percent of the nation’s total gasoline use of 140 billion gallons. Blends beyond E10 will be necessary to reach the RFS targets, and yet blends beyond E10 are not approved for use in America’s standard, non-flex vehicles, which represent the majority of vehicles on the roads today.
A letter written to President Obama by Agriculture Secretaries from 10 states addresses this issue.
“The federal government embraced this concept through passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which among other things, mandated 36 billion gallons of ethanol be blended into our domestic fuel supply by 2022. However, the current EPA regulatory cap of 10 percent ethanol hinders that opportunity. Simply put, there is a government rule contradicting a government law. Now is the time to move forward by increasing the base fuel blend to 15 or 20 percent ethanol.”
The letter was signed by Agriculture Secretaries from South Dakota, North Dakota, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.
The E10 blend wall was discussed with Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the EPA, on March 2 when she met with the ethanol producers and supporters gathered in DC for the American Coalition for Ethanol’s grassroots fly-in event. The urgency of the blend wall issue was communicated personally by ethanol producers and farmer shareholders who are feeling the pressure of market uncertainty, which translates into below-cost ethanol prices and banks tightening or eliminating their of lines of credit.
Cellulose needs mid-range certainty
The E10 blend limit is pinching today’s corn-based ethanol industry, and is also jeopardizing tomorrow’s production of ethanol from cellulosic feedstocks. Market uncertainty means a slowing – or stalling – of investment in next-generation technologies.
“It is recognized that the E10 blend market can be fully supplied by corn ethanol production, and unless EPA lifts its 10 percent blend cap, there will be no market for cellulosic ethanol. Investment in and progress toward cellulosic ethanol commercialization is in jeopardy unless action is taken soon,” Jennings stated.
Several cellulosic ethanol stakeholders are listed on the official waiver application: Khosla Ventures, Coskata, BioGasol, TMO, Microbiogen, Edenspace, ZeaChem Inc., and Qteros.
Jennings believes having these cellulosic ethanol companies join in the waiver illustrates how critical the issue is for their long-term viability, and their support lends important momentum to the waiver effort.
Underwriters Laboratories gives go-ahead for up to 15% ethanol in standard pumps
Underwriters Laborites (UL) recently announced its support for the ability of standard gasoline dispensers to handle up to 15 percent ethanol – clearing a major hurdle for the widespread use of blends beyond E10.
In a February 19 press statement, UL said that it supports local Authorities Having Jurisdiction, such as fire marshals and weights & measures officials, who decide to permit currently installed “UL 87” dispensers to operate with ethanol blends up to 15 percent.
“The data the company h as gathered as part of the organization’s ongoing research to investigate the impact of using higher ethanol blends in fuel dispensing systems supports that existing dispensers can be used with ethanol blends up to 15 percent,” according to the UL statement. “UL researchers found that using equipment certified to UL 87 to dispense ethanol blends with a maximum ethanol content of 15 percent should not result in critical safety concerns.”
For years the fuel marketing community had understood the standard “UL 87” to cover the use of up to 15 percent ethanol in standard gas pumps, but in document published January 7, UL stated that equipment could only up to E10. The American Coalition for Ethanol pushed for answers, writing to officially and publicly express concern over what appeared to be an arbitrary change to the UL 87 standard.
Even though the UL 87 standard does not specifically mention E10 or E15, it refers to underlying standards that use clear phrases such as “ethanol does not exceed 15 percent,” “approved for gasoline/ethanol blends up to 15 percent ethanol,” and “gasoline with up to 15 percent ethanol.”
“UL determined that there is no significant incremental risk of damage between E10 and fuels with a maximum of 15 percent ethanol,” John Drengenberg, Consumer Affairs Manager for UL, stated in the February 19 press release.