UAI’s Studies Tell the Truth

FROM THE APRIL ISSUE: The need for an updated fuel testing process.
By Dave VanderGriend | March 15, 2019

Every time we fill our gas tanks, we are exposed to chemicals known to cause cancer. Think about how often that happens, and how a cleaner fuel is rarely an option. These toxic chemicals, known as aromatics, are allowed in our fuel supply even though it’s been documented for decades that they are harmful. It does not have to be this way. Cleaner fuel options are readily available today.

Toxic aromatics make up 20 to 30 percent of a gallon of gasoline. These aromatics, added to boost octane, are the most dangerous components of gasoline and the largest contributor to tailpipe emissions. From our perspective, biofuels such as ethanol are an obvious replacement because they provide an octane boost while reducing emissions. In fact, ethanol is already making a difference. Since the adoption of E10, ethanol has replaced 8 billion gallons of aromatics annually. That number will only increase with the adoption of E15 and higher blends.

While higher ethanol blends seem like the obvious answer to us, the U.S. EPA has not adopted them, largely because of the science it relies on to create regulations. It uses studies for vehicle emissions that do not fully credit ethanol for its emission-reducing abilities. It’s not clear whether this is intentional, or if EPA is simply following testing procedures that date back to a time when ethanol was not part of the fuel mix. Either way, the science behind test fuels and vehicle emission testing is a passion of the Urban Air Initiative. For years, our assessments found that studies do not accurately reflect ethanol’s emission-reducing benefits, nor do they reflect the fuels consumers actually buy.

Last year, this prompted UAI to commission several independent studies. They ranged from a critical review of the vehicle emission studies EPA uses to create regulations to the impact midlevel ethanol blends have on evaporative and tailpipe emissions. In these independent studies, researchers found that when they used fuels that resembled what consumers can purchase at the corner gas station, ethanol reduced emissions across the board. In fact, two of the studies found that ethanol blends can reduce toxic tailpipe emissions by up to 50 percent, improving air quality and protecting public health.

These studies were conducted by reputable universities and research outlets, studies that have been peer reviewed and presented at conferences with fuel and emission experts. These are the studies that can propel our case to EPA that it’s time to re-examine the science.

Armed with this independent information, we welcome the opportunity to work with EPA and others to create an accurate fuel testing process. From our perspective, an updated process would help erase unnecessary regulation, provide access to lower-carbon and less-toxic fuels, improve our country’s air quality and, most important, improve public health. Because we shouldn’t have to be exposed to cancer-causing chemicals at the gas pump. We deserve the ability to choose a cleaner fuel.

Author: Dave VanderGriend
President, Urban Air Initiative