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WILL OBAMA MOVE BEYOND E10?
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The Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) mandates use of 15 billion gallons of
ethanol by 2015. Given that flex-fuel vehicles powered by E85 have not
caught on, almost all ethanol will be consumed as E10 unless
EPA decides to allow higher blends. At the 10 percent blend, 15 billion
gallons of ethanol would be blended with 135 billion gallons of gasoline.
Unless total motor fuel consumption grows substantially over the next few
years, nearly every gallon of gasoline will need to be blended at a 10
percent blend to meet the RFS. Experts say that will not happen, and that it
is inevitable that the United States will hit a "blend wall" before the
15-billion-gallon mandate is met.
One solution to the problem would be for EPA to approve the Renewable Fuels Association's request that EPA find E12 "substantially similar" to E10. Under that scenario, 15.5 billion gallons of ethanol could be blended into the 115 billion gallons of gasoline and the RFS standard would be met.
Engine manufacturers and automakers have opposed mid-level ethanol blends because they say higher ethanol blends can have detrimental effects on engines and lead to costly liability claims.
With the Bush EPA not acting on the substantially similar request, it will be up to the Obama Administration to balance the ethanol industry's interests against the economic concerns of a beleaguered auto industry. Previous remarks by Obama's environmental spokeswoman Heather Zichal—who Obama named December 15 to the position of deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change—indicate the president-elect's support for higher ethanol blends. "In addition, this is again another area where [Obama] has worked . . . in the state legislature and in the U.S. Senate . . . with gas station retailers and pump manufacturers, as well as the engine manufacturers to make sure they're certifying their parts to the highest blend levels that are safe for the equipment and to design equipment capable of handling higher blend levels," she said in a radio interview with AgriTalk on October 15.
Both Underwriters Laboratories and the U.S. Department of Energy seem ready to take a role in the debate. A joint UL/DOE petroleum dispenser legacy system certification clarification was posted on both websites the week of December 22, 2008. The statement, in part, said:
"Underwriters Laboratories Listed dispensers - those legacy dispensers currently in service and used most often in gas stations around the country today - are certified under UL 87 and are authorized for dispensing blends up to E10. Because UL often uses safety margins during testing, some subassemblies have been tested with fuels containing 15% ethanol, leading to some technical references to this level, but that does not mean that those dispensers are certified to dispense fuels containing greater than 10% ethanol.
UL is currently working with the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding their ongoing research to investigate the impact of using higher ethanol blends in current legacy vehicles and engine systems (that were not originally designed for use with ethanol blends above E10). If new federal guidelines are established that approve higher ethanol blend levels for public use, UL will review products currently certified under UL 87 to determine whether UL can support such use."
The entire joint clarification statement issued by UL and DOE is available here.
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The TulsaLetter (ISSN 0193-9467) is published two or three times each month by the Petroleum Equipment Institute. Robert N. Renkes, Executive Vice President, Editor. Opinions expressed are the opinions of the Editor. Basic circulation confined to PEI members.