Ethanol Groups Endorse Higher Blends, OPEI Not So Sure

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) on March 6 joined with Growth Energy, the American Coalition for Ethanol, the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition, and other groups in filing an official waiver request with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asking it to approve for general use gasoline blended with up to 15 percent ethanol (E15).

RFA President and Chief Executive Officer Bob Dinneen issued the following statement: Increasing ethanol blending above 10 percent is important to the long-term viability of America's ethanol industry and the success of the Renewable Fuels Standard. We encourage EPA to fully evaluate the merits of moving to ethanol blends up to 15 percent. We believe that comprehensive testing and sound science will demonstrate that increasing ethanol content in gasoline above 10 percent can be done with little if any impact on existing vehicle technologies."

The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), however, has serious concerns. According to a release from that group on the same day, "introducing E15 and higher fuels to the marketplace for existing equipment pose serious risks to American consumers and businesses."

"The fact is that the use of E15 and higher levels of ethanol is a complex issue, and it can't be rushed by efforts that overlook the impacts on consumer safety and economic interests," said Kris Kiser, executive vice president. "OPEI fully supports congressional efforts to increase the use of cellulosic fuels. We can design products to run on higher levels of ethanol."

But, Kiser points out that existing small-engine equipment will likely experience performance irregularities and possible failure. Therefore the public's awareness, education and safety should be at the forefront of any discussion of introducing new cellulosic fuel blends.

Added Kiser, "We need to acknowledge that current equipment -- including boats, chainsaws, lawn mowers, snow mobiles, motorcycles, generators, and other small engine equipment -- may be permanently damaged and poses a safety risk if E15 fuel is used. Current equipment is neither designed, built, nor warranted for mid-level blends."

In a new report, independent environmental researcher Ron Sahu Ph.D., critiques the DOE report that tested a small sample size of legacy vehicles and small non-road engines. DOE's engine test results (but not the report's summary) document why the current push to E15 for existing equipment is not in consumers' or the environment's best interest:

• Engine exhaust temperatures rose to an extent that may cause premature engine and equipment failure,

• Safety hazards dramatically increased due to unintentional clutch engagement caused by high idle speeds,

• Products were damaged to the point they could no longer operate, and

• Numerous adverse operational issues arose – such as erratic engine and equipment operation, stalling of engines, and dramatic power reduction.

"The DOE study shows that of the 28 engines tested, all 28 had some significant problems with higher ethanol blends that the machines were not designed to operate on," added Kiser.

OPEI will be submitting a letter to EPA and DOE urging both agencies to utilize the existing formal waiver process. The process will provide the necessary studies and data to fully understand effects of introducing new fuel types into the marketplace. The studies also will provide information necessary to educate consumers about the use of mid-level ethanol fuels on existing and future products.