For Now, E15 Still Illegal

RFA, Growth Energy work through multiple implementation steps
By Holly Jessen | November 15, 2010
With E15 approved for 2007 vehicles and newer, what's next? Plenty, say the Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy.

It's actually illegal to sell E15 for use in anything other than a flex-fuel vehicle (FFV), even though the U.S. EPA approved a partial waiver for E15 on Oct. 31. "There's a lot of other steps that have to be taken before you'll see E15 in commerce for 2007 and newer vehicles," says Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis. RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen calls it a "complicated process and one that will not happen overnight." The list of required steps is long, although Dinneen adds that work began months ago.

Growth Energy and RFA are working together to complete health effects testing and the fuel registration process required for any new fuel. The testing, which compares E10 to E15, was expected to be submitted to EPA by mid-November, Buis says. The testing will look at emissions and determine if any new chemicals are created as a result of increased ethanol content. Early testing has confirmed that won't be the case, Dinneen adds.

RFA's Ethanol Emergency Response Coalition is researching current firefighting tools and whether any techniques are needed to address E15. RFA will also work with local fire marshals, helping to ensure that existing fuel infrastructure can be used with E15.

The Federal Trade Commission and nearly all state laws require a fuel's octane rating be certified—another step for E15 implementation. For comparison, E100 has an octane rating of 109 or more while a standard gallon of unleaded gasoline has an octane rate of 87. RFA is working with ASTM to develop the needed data to complete this, Dinneen says.

Other technical issues include testing fuel dispenser equipment for E15 and changing various state laws and regulations.

The EPA's proposed E15 label is also a concern. It's critical, Dinneen says, that the label is clear, factual and non-threatening. "The label is meant to instruct consumers on how to the use the fuel, not frighten them away from doing so," he says.

There's been a lot of chatter about misfueling and liability concerns, Buis says. Growth Energy has been told multiple times by the EPA, that if the fuel pump is labeled, the retailer will not be liable. "I think people need to hold their horses and wait a little while until we get all the clarifications before going out there and saying the sky is falling," he says.

At the same time that the industry works to get E15 to the marketplace, it is continuing to wait for the EPA to approve a waiver for additional model years for the fuel. If E15 is approved for model years 2001-'06 the increased blend could reach another 90 million vehicles. "Collectively that gets you about 55-56 percent of the U.S. fleet," Buis says. But he'd like to see the EPA go even further. Growth Energy requested the waiver for all vehicles with no model year limits. EPA used U.S. DOE testing as the basis of its waiver decision, however, and that organization has only tested model year 2001 and newer. The EPA should start testing legacy vehicles immediately and amend the waiver later, Buis says.

The EPA is simply ignoring credible scientific data that demonstrates that E15 is safe for all light duty cars and trucks, Dinneen says. For example, a Ricardo Inc. study submitted to EPA shows that using E15 in model years 2000 and older would have no adverse affects. "It is previously unheard of for EPA to deny a waiver request for vehicles that are beyond their EPA-determined useful life, as all model year 2000 and older vehicles will be on Jan. 1," Dinneen adds.