Report critical of E15 use in vehicles

Feb 1, 2013

The ethanol and oil industries exchanged jabs Tuesday after a Coordinating Research Council (CRC) report found that E15 could be dangerous to the fuel systems in millions of vehicles.

In recent years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the use of E15 in vehicle models 2001 and newer. During a news conference Tuesday, however, the American Petroleum Institute (API) announced the results of what was an ongoing study on the effects of E15 on various vehicles. API slammed EPA for not allowing the fuel to be ‘fully tested’ before approving its use, citing a number of mechanical issues found due to the fuel’s use.

Ethanol industry representatives countered with a news conference of their own, questioning the credibility of the study and asking why ethanol industry officials were not allowed to offer input during the study.

Growing an E15 market is considered to be important to the development of the cellulosic ethanol industry, which will need a larger share of the gasoline market to be successful. In addition, E15 is seen as a way to expand the market for U.S. corn and other biofuel feedstocks.

Bob Reynolds, president of Downstream Alternatives and a consultant to the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), told reporters the vehicles tested included makes and models already known to have fuel system problems and were subject to recall. Several of the recalled vehicles are said to “overlap with vehicles listed in the report.”

Reynolds said the latest CRC report seems to be uncharacteristic of the work the group usually does.

“I worked with the CRC for 20 years,” he said. “I served on committees and we have in fact funded and participated in projects with them. We have found the CRC to be one of the more respected organizations.

“You can’t test a few systems then scare owners of 270 million vehicles on the road today, 68 percent of which are approved to use E15.”

Kristy Moore, vice president for Technical Services for RFA, said she was surprised to see the CRC report did not take into account what she said is the No. 1 cause of fuel system failures—sulfur.

War declared

The ethanol and oil industries have declared war on a number of fronts early in 2013. API is on record as calling for the complete repeal of the Renewable Fuels Standard that requires the use of some 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022. The expansion of an E15 market is seen as a linchpin for the future success of the RFS.

API Group Director of Downstream and Industry Operations Bob Greco told reporters that the study shows an “elevated incidence of fuel pump failures, fuel system component swelling, and impairment of fuel measurement systems in some of the vehicles tested.”

In addition, the study found that E15 could cause “erratic and misleading fuel gauge readings” or “faulty check-engine light illuminations.” In addition the fuel could cause critical components to break and stop fuel flow to engines, leading to vehicle breakdowns.

In testing other ethanol blends along with E15, CRC said it did not find component problems when E10 or gasoline without ethanol was used.

“It is difficult to precisely calculate how many vehicles E15 could harm,” Greco said in a statement. “That depends on how widely it is used and other factors. But, given the kinds of vehicles tested, it is safe to say that millions could be impacted.”

Report disputed

RFA President and Chief Executive Officer Bob Dinneen said in a statement that API had “cooked the books” by using what he said was an “aggressive fuel mix to try and force engine damage.” That fuel mix includes both acid and water, not commonly found in gasoline blends.

Fuel containing ethanol is widespread, but some research says that many vehicles on the road are not properly designed to the blended fuel.

“API has absolutely no credibility when it comes to talking about E15,” he said.

“This isn’t real testing and this certainly isn’t real life. Enough already with the scare tactics. E15 is rolling forward and API needs to get out the way of progress that will result in a stronger country, a stronger economy, and stronger, cleaner environment. E15 will not be stopped by feet dragging and forecasts of fictional faults.”

Growth Energy Chief Executive Officer Tom Buis said he believes the APIbacked study reveals concern from the oil industry about ethanol’s growing market presence.

“Oil companies are desperate to prevent the use of higher blends of renewable fuels,” he said in a statement.

“They have erected every regulatory and legal roadblock imaginable to prevent our nation from reducing our dependence on oil. For big oil this is about market share.”

During API’s news conference, Greco questioned EPA’s approval of the use of E15 in vehicle models 2001 and newer.

Automobile manufacturers have expressed concern publicly that vehicle warranties will not cover damage caused by using E15. In addition, gasoline retailers have said that about half of all station equipment is incompatible with E15.

“EPA’s action was irresponsible,” Greco said.

“EPA knew E15 vehicle testing was ongoing but decided not to wait for the results. Why did EPA move forward prematurely? Part of the answer may be the need to raise the permissible concentration level of ethanol so that greater volumes could be used, as required by the federal Renewable Fuels Standard.”

RFA pointed out a number of concerns about the study in a news release.

RFA said the latest study was duplicated by Minnesota State University in 2008 also using an “aggressive” E20 test fuel on fuel system components. That study found that E20 had similar effects on vehicles as did E10.

“The aggressive test fuel formulation and level of ethanol concentration is highly questionable as relevant to E15,” RFA said.

“There has been no proven correlation to real world fuels to the aggressive formula which dates back to 1993. Fuel properties have significantly changed in the nearly three decades since this publication.” — Todd Neeley, DTN