Biofuel and the blend wall: what every car owner should know

biofuel-blend-wallAfter extensive research involving the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the EPA determined that the reasons for the decreased biofuel mandate stem from a combination of declining gasoline demand and reaching the so-called ‘blend wall.’

Head of the EPA’s Transportation and Air Quality Office Christopher Grundler told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on December 11 that, “[the EPA is] recognizing that the blend wall has been reached.” He continued, “Reaching the blend wall clearly presents constraints to using higher ethanol quantities because of the infrastructure and other market limitations.”

The ‘blend wall’ is defined as the ratio of standard gasoline and ethanol that is safe and effective for vehicles to run effectively over a long period of time. Over the past few years, the standard has remained steady at 90 percent gasoline and 10 percent ethanol, which is the E10 fuel seen at most gas stations in the U.S. today.

Many biofuel enthusiasts believe the blend wall could climb to 15 percent without consequence, or could even be eliminated entirely with recent advancements in technology. Steven Chalk, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Renewable Power, told a Senate panel on December 11 that “…successful RD&D investments in cellulosic ethanol have provided foundational knowledge and capability at national laboratories, in industry, and at universities to develop the more challenging bio-based gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels.”

The EPA granted waivers starting in 2010 for limited E15 use in “newer light-duty motor vehicles (i.e. cars, light-duty trucks, and medium-duty passenger vehicles)” and again in 2011 for many vehicles that were assembled earlier than 2001. A separate study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in 2012 found no remarkable damage from E15 fuel to fueling systems in vehicles spanning back to 1995 either.

After years of unwavering support from the EPA regarding the increase of biofuel mandate, does it surprise you that they have pulled an about-face this year? Is the EPA justified for lowering the mandate because of the ‘blend wall’ being reached and gasoline demand dropping, or are they caving to big oil? Let us know in the comment section below.

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