UL develops certification for ethanol blend dispensers

By Erin Voegele | August 10, 2009
Report posted Aug. 12, 2009, at 1:45 p.m. CST

Underwriters Laboratories, a world leader in product safety testing services, recently announced a new certification path for fuel dispensers for midlevel ethanol blends up to E25. With the new certification path, UL 87A-E25, those entities involved in the manufacture of dispensers, assemblies and components now have three certification options to choose from in testing their products that are designed to dispense ethanol-blended fuels. According to UL, the availability of these three options will provide maximum flexibility as advances are made in the fuel industry.

UL's safety standards and requirements are changed, added or retired as global safety needs advance. As such, the new midlevel certification path was proactively developed and presented at a July 16 meeting of dispenser and component manufacturers. That meeting addressed the fuel dispensing market and potential market developments.

According to UL's Consumer Safety Director John Drengenberg, UL has recognized that the U.S. DOE and U.S. EPA may approve the use of new ethanol-gasoline mixtures in the future, and wanted to proactively prepare for that potential action. "We just wanted to be proactive and make sure that we had requirements in place so that if any decisions were made on what levels of ethanol would be incorporated into the fuel, we would have the requirements already available," he said. "We already had a standard called UL87A, which deals with fuel mixtures up to E85. We fine tuned it a bit for those fuel mixtures down at E25."

Equipment tested under certification path UL 87A-E85 is tested with two different ethanol fuel mixtures, one that contains approximately 25 percent ethanol and another that contains approximately 85 percent ethanol, said Drengenberg. The new certification path, UL 87A-E25, involves similar methods, but is completed with only the 25 percent ethanol fuel mixture. "What this means is that we don't have to do the testing with higher blends of fuel," he said. "It just gives us a quicker path to getting a certification completed…if you are going to use only a maximum of E25 [in a fuel dispenser], we don't have to bother testing it for E85."

According to Drengenberg, the decision to base the new certification path on E25 was based on science, not politics. "There are two issues with the dispensers, one is that the alcohol-based fuels attack soft metals," he said. "The other is that the alcohol-based fuels can attack plastics. However, they don't attack them at the same rate or at the same levels. What we are finding is that the highest sensitivity to plastics is right around E25. The metal sensitivities go up as the concentrations increase, all the way up to E85." In other words, a fuel blend containing approximately 25 percent ethanol is the most corrosive to plastic materials, while a fuel blend containing approximately 85 percent ethanol is the most corrosive to metal materials. This is why pumps tested under Subject 87A-E85 are tested with both fuel mixtures.

UL's three certification paths for dispensers of ethanol-blended fuels include:

    1. UL 87 for gasoline and ethanol fuel blends up to E10
    2. The established requirements of Subject 87A-E856, which addresses gasoline and ethanol fuel blends up to E85
    3. The new certification path in Subject 87A-E25, which addresses gasoline and midlevel ethanol fuel blends up to E25