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Fuel for Thought – Is E15 Gasoline Harmful to Your Car?

e15-gasolineAs you may have noticed when filling the gas tank, changes are emerging at the pump.  Many new gas stations offer four or even five selections of fuel, taking the place of the old 87, 89, and 93 octane choices.  New fuels like biodiesel, E85, E10 and so forth have begun to sprout up across the country.

Of course, this should be considered all well and good for our future.  Emerging technology should be expected to create better fuel options to quell gasoline reliance.  And the research has been exhaustive, too, leading to recent policy changes; in 2007, the Energy independence and Security Act was implemented, mandating the use of 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel sources by 2022.  Production requirements will steadily increase year by year through the Act.

The quarrel continued in 2011, when it was reported by the EPA that most cars in the US would run effectively on fuel with up to 10% ethanol, (E10 fuel) and that fuel with 15% ethanol (E15 fuel) could be sold safely to vehicles that were manufactured after 2001.

No reason to be concerned, right?

That’s what makes it so troubling to discover the news that the CRC, or the Coordinating Research Council, released a report this week with evidence to affirm that long-term E15 fuel use could significantly damage standard fueling systems for millions of vehicles produced in the last 10 years.

The CRC, a non-profit entity that receives its funding from the petroleum and automotive industries, noted that a variety of car problems can emerge from E15 fuel.  American Petroleum Institute (API) director Bob Greco elaborates, “increasing ethanol content from standard 10% blend to 15% can cause problems including fuel system component swelling, erratic fuel level indicators, faulty check engine lights and failure of other parts that can lead to breakdowns.”

Supporters of the new report have reignited the clash between them and the EPA over the automotive safety of E15 fuel.  In December 2010 a conglomerate of automobile, petroleum, and manufacturing associations set out to file a lawsuit against the EPA for an E15 distribution waiver.  However, the case was thrown out by the US Court of Appeals in August 2012 since it was ruled the consortium had no legal grounds to sue the EPA.

Now the group, including the CRC and API, is “strongly considering” taking the case to the Supreme Court.  They believe this report will warrant enough consideration to readdress the matter, as well as create the momentum to amend the Energy Independence and Security Act (EIS Act) by decreasing the minimum Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) given to petroleum companies.

In the consortium’s eyes, they see the pressure from needing to distribute so much ethanol in fuel blends as the main reason why the EPA condones E15 usage, rather than reinforcing the potential automotive concerns of the average motorist.  Greco adds, “The world has changed since [the EIA] was enacted…consumer demand for fuels has dropped, while domestic supplies of crude oil have grown dramatically because of the revolution in shale oil and natural gas development in the US.  This has reduced imports, one of the stated purposes of the RFS.”

Overall, the US has been the largest producer of ethanol fuel since 2005, and when combined with Brazil, they accounted for nearly 90% of all global ethanol production in 2011.  Ethanol production projections are slated to increase again in 2013 as well.

To read the full 38 page report from the CRC, click here.

Kristopher Settle
Energy Curtailment Specialists, Inc.

Kris can be found on Twitter and Google+.

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