EPA approves E15 for model years 2001 and later, for cars, SUVs, and light pickup trucks

January 24, 2011 |

In Washington, the EPA approved blends of up to E15 ethanol for model year 2001 through 2006 for cars, SUVs, and light pickup trucks. On October 13, 2010, EPA approved a waiver allowing the use of E15 for model year 2007 (and newer) cars and light trucks.

At that time, EPA denied a request to allow the use of E15 for MY 2000 and older vehicles and postponed its decision on the use of E15 in MY 2001 to 2006 cars and light trucks until DOE completed additional testing for those model years.

The Agency also announced that no waiver is being granted this year for E15 use in any motorcycles, heavy-duty vehicles, or non-road engines because current testing data does not support such a waiver.

Also, EPA is developing requirements to ensure that E15 is properly labeled at the gas pump.  The label will be designed to prevent refueling into vehicles, engines, and equipment not currently approved for the higher ethanol blend. EPA granted the waiver after considering the E15 petition submitted by Growth Energy and 54 ethanol manufacturers in March 2009.

In April 2009, EPA sought public comment on the petition and received about 78,000 comments. 

The petition was submitted under a Clean Air Act provision that allows EPA to waive the act’s prohibition against the sale of a significantly altered fuel if the petitioner shows that the new fuel will not cause or contribute to the failure of engine and other emission-related parts that ensure compliance with emission standards. 

More information from the EPA.

OK, what does it mean? What does the economic impact look like?

A study by North Dakota State University last year outlined the positive effects E15 would have on the nation’s economy, including creating 136,000 new jobs and generating an additional $24.4 billion in economic activity. The use of E15 (as a total replacement for E10) would also displace nearly 7 billion gallons of gasoline from imported oil.

What about the ethanol blend wall – does this solve the problem?

Well, no. The blend wall, as you will recall, is a technical barrier associated with blending limits. With 10 percent ethanol blending, you can distribute up to 13 billion gallons in 130 billion gallons of fuel sold in the US – which is around the annual usage right now. E15 has the promise of changing that – to as high as 19.5 billion gallons, much farther along the road towards the 36 billion gallons in the Renewable Fuel Standard. But with older cars, motorcycles and non-road engines unable to use E15, retailers are completely unlikely to sell E15 only, but rather would look to provide E15 as an alternative to customers via an additional pump. Installing blender pumps that can dial in higher blends of fuel – or simply an additional E15 pump – represents an investment of time and money that the fuel retailing industry has shown little interest in, broadly speaking, to date.

What needs to be done now to make E15 available on a commercial basis?

There are still other things that need to be addressed before E15 can be sold commercially. Health effects data. State regulations have to be addressed. Companies have to register the fuel to sell it. Octane certification to be done. Some other things need to be done. But make no mistake, this is an important step, and necessary before other steps can be taken.

When might E15 be available?

In certain states where there aren’t as many regulatory barriers, you might begin to see E15 sold 2011 on a limited basis in the third quarter or fourth quarter of this year.  Clearly there are some  marketers who will want to give consumers this important choice.

Is EPA considering approving E15 for vehicles from model years prior to 2000?

Not at this time. They have indicated that they will not grant a waiver without data, and no tests to produce such data have been scheduled with DOE. RFA has given data to EPA in support of extending the waiver, but EPA has not shown interest in doing so.

The Digest’s Take

An important step towards E15 in the United States, but don’t expect to see the new fuel blend marketed in meaningful quantities outside of the Midwest any time soon. In a practical sense, the more important program coming out of Growth Energy is the Fueling Freedom plan, which calls for investment in ethanol infrastructure, including blender pumps that can deliver alternative blends of fuel for flex-fuel cars, as well as E15 for model years 2000 and later.

The early model years are important enough now, but in five or six years, the number of very old cars on the road will diminish. Right now, E10 is used almost universally despite the fact that model years 1994 and earlier are not supposed to use it. So, in five or six years you can expect E15 to gradually replace E10 as the baseline fuel for the passenger car market. But the non-waiver for the US’s motorcycle fleet will leave millions of bikers unhappy, should E10 be phased out anywhere, and users of gasoline for weed whackers and other non-road engines are likely to add to a chorus of boos wherever E10 is phased out.

Ultimately, investments in blender pumps and pipelines – which cost in the billions of dollars – should be weighed carefully against the cost of creating loan guarantees and other financing vehicles for advanced, drop-in biofuels that may not require blending waivers – or are less impacted by them.

Reaction from the field: The happies

US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

“Today’s announcement is another important step to get existing ethanol production capacity into the market to support and create jobs in rural America, improve our nation’s energy security, protect our environment, and provide the renewable fuels industry with the support it needs to grow and mature,” said Vilsack. “Expanding the use of E15 in America’s vehicle fleet gives consumers the option of purchasing domestically produced renewable transportation fuels and also support America’s farmers and ranchers.”

Rob Skjonsberg, POET Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Corporate Affairs

“The EPA’s decision today opens the door to solving the market barrier on ethanol use. We’re clearly moving forward, but significant hurdles remain before consumers can start using E15. Research supports approval of E15 for all vehicles. We knew this two years ago when the industry submitted the waiver. This is a necessary first step, but we have to move toward a market that allows competition. POET supports Growth Energy’s Fueling Freedom plan, which opens the fuel market through expansion of blender pumps and Flex Fuel Vehicles. E15, along with the Fueling Freedom Plan, provides real consumer choice and is the only realistic plan to get off our dependence on imported oil.”

Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy

“This is a bold move forward, changing America’s energy future for the better,” said  “Increased use of ethanol will strengthen our energy security, create U.S. jobs, and improve the environment by displacing conventional gasoline with a low-carbon fuel. There are many more steps we can take toward achieving our energy security and environmental goals. We commend the EPA and we urge them to continue testing E15 for all vehicles, so that every American motorist has the opportunity to use a blend of fuel that is proven to be better for our economy, our security and our environment.”

Bob Dinneen, CEO, Renewable Fuels Association

Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen comments in an interview with ZimmNews, including other steps that EPA must take before E15 will be available, and when in fact the fuel may be sold to consumers. Dinneen’s recorded comments are available here, via AgNewswire.

Glenn Nedwin, Executive Vice President of Genencor, a Division of Danisco

“We commend the EPA’s decision to raise the amount of ethanol that can be blended into our fuel from 10 percent (E10) to 15 percent (E15). It was the right action to take and an essential one. The EPA action expands the market opportunity for ethanol producers and will accelerate the deployment and availability of biofuels to more consumer markets across the country. Building the ethanol fueling infrastructure is important to achieving greater economic, environmental and energy security benefits.”

Joshua Morby, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Bio Industry Alliance (WBIA).

“This decision is great news for Wisconsin’s ethanol producers, our environment, and our economy. Study after study has proven that E15 is safe for use in all vehicles, and by allowing these blends, the EPA has paved the way for consumers to take advantage of the benefits higher ethanol blends offer.”

Reaction from the field: The grumpies

Robb MacKie, President and CEO, American Bakers Association

“EPA’s decision to increase the ethanol blend to E15 will further increase volatility in the grain markets. This could hasten the reduction in wheat acres and raise Americans’ food bills. U.S. cropland is already stretched to its limit. Increasing the blend has the potential to further impact commodity stocks and ultimately food prices. The grain markets are currently experiencing near record volatility and prices have edged closer to the record levels of 2008.”

Bill Wilson, President, Americans for Limited Government

“Why is the government forcing consumers to use an inefficient fuel that causes the price of food to skyrocket?  Corn ethanol gets less miles per gallon, and is less efficient than gasoline.  Now that more cars are ‘approved’ to use E15, according to the EPA, then we can expect the price of regular gasoline to increase to encourage use of this inefficient fuel.  All subsidies and mandates to use ethanol should be repealed.”

J. Patrick Boyle, President and CEO, American Meat Institute

“Increased pressure on the corn supply has again pushed corn above $6.00 a bushel, levels not seen since 2008. This announcement only means that more corn will be diverted from an already thinning supply and increased pressure will be put on the meat and poultry sector which is already facing near record high feed costs. For consumers who are concerned about food prices, this decision will further increase prices at the grocery store. Burning our food and feed as fuel is not a sustainable approach to solving this country’s long-term energy needs.”

Shelia Karpf, Legislative and Policy Analyst, Environmental Working Group

“With this decision, the Obama administration has just voided car warranties for millions of Americans at the behest of the corn and ethanol lobby. The confusion at the pump will be unimaginable, as will the costly burden placed on taxpayers as cars and small engines not made to burn corn ethanol break down after misfueling. Taxpayers have invested billions in a fuel that does little to reduce our dependence on foreign oil while tearing up the land and polluting fresh water.”

Kate McMahon, Biofuels Campaign Coordinator, Friends of the Earth

“The EPA’s decision amounts to a New Year’s gift to corporate ethanol interests that is bad for consumers and bad for the environment. Corn ethanol is a highly polluting fuel that causes more climate-damaging emissions than regular gasoline, according to the EPA’s own scientific analysis. Consumers are bound to get confused at the pump, and using more ethanol in engines not configured to run on ethanol could lead to engine damage and increased emissions of toxic air pollutants.”

Geoff Moody, Director, Energy and Environmental Policy, Grocery Manufacturers Association

“Today’s decision will divert even more food and feed to fuel, increasing food prices at a time when food prices are already rising. We urge EPA and the Obama Administration to put the needs of ordinary Americans ahead of the needs of the ethanol industry and reverse this decision.”

Jerry Slominski, Sr. Vice President, International Dairy Foods Association

“Dairy processors and farmers are increasingly aware of the impact that ethanol policies are having on feed costs and ultimately what consumers are paying for dairy products.   EPA’s decision is unfortunately another step in the wrong direction. “

Bill Roenigk, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist, National Chicken Council.

“EPA’s decision is another giveaway to the ethanol interests and again demonstrates EPA cannot or will not balance the broad national interests on this issue.  E15 may be good for ethanol producers and corn farmers but it is clearly detrimental to all other interested parties.  To the extent EPA and the ethanol industry actually manage to force more ethanol into the nation’s motor gasoline, they will put even more pressure on the already very tight supply of corn.  When consumers ask why their food costs are higher, it will be difficult for EPA to explain that today’s decision had no impact on the food shopper’s dollar.”

Scott Vinson, Vice President, National Council of Chain Restaurants

“This decision literally takes food out of the mouths of American consumers in order to increase the profits of the ethanol industry. When corn and all the food products derived from it are diverted away from the dinner table, that drives up the cost of a meal for every American family whether they are eating in a restaurant or at home. Turning corn into ethanol and burning it as fuel should not take priority over feeding families at an affordable price.”

Barry Carpenter, CEO, National Meat Association

“This decision to increase the ethanol blend in gasoline is environmentally shortsighted and virtually guaranteed to negatively impact U.S. food security.”

Pete Sepp, Executive Vice President, National Taxpayers Union

“For several decades now, Washington has propped up ethanol through subsidies, sweetheart tax deals, mandates, and other schemes. The EPA shouldn’t encourage this dash for cash even further by using its authority to expand E15’s usage. Taxpayers are already groaning under the weight of past mistakes with ethanol policy; it’s time for government to stop breaking their backs.”

Joel Brandenberger, President, National Turkey Federation

“EPA’s decision completely disregarded significant scientific and economic evidence surrounding E15 and its potentially disastrous impact.  It sends a terrible signal to an already volatile market at a time when corn supplies are very tight.  The long-term potential for diverting even larger amounts of corn away from food and feed is a recipe for that could result in consumers paying more for food.”

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