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EPA takes steps to bring new biofuel blend to the pumps

by Michael Ahene
April 04, 2012

ethanol splash

The sugar produced from corn is the base ingredient for producing Ethanol biofuels.

Fuel companies can move ahead with the production and distribution of a new ethanol blended gasoline that may save motorists hundreds at the pump each year.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday approved the first applications granting fuel manufacturers the ability to distribute a gasoline and ethanol blend called E15.

The majority of gas stations in the U.S. already offer a gasoline blend containing 10 percent ethanol.  The new mixture proposed by the ethanol industry will increase the amount of ethanol allowed in hybrid gasoline mixes to 15 percent, creating a second, higher octane option for drivers with biofuel capable vehicles.

“We’re very pleased with the news,” said Jim Nussle, president of the trade group Growth Energy that represents U.S. producers and supporters of ethanol. “It’s one more step to get E15 in the market place.”

Before the blend can be made widely available, gas stations must be outfitted with special pumps that deliver high-blend biofuels. According to the EPA, the government has established a five-year plan to install 10,000 of the required pumps in filling stations across the country. The project is being financed through grants provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy and portions of the 2008 Farm Bill and the Recovery Act.

“It offers consumers a lower cost, higher grade octane at a time when gas prices are a high concern,” said Nussle.

While the changes may save money for drivers, there are restrictions on the type of vehicle that can accept the new blend. Flex Fuel vehicles, which are equipped to run on biofuels and ethanol blends up to 85 percent, and all vehicles manufactured after 2001 can safely run on the new blend. According to the EPA, the mixture cannot be used in vehicles prior to the 2001 model year, as well as off-road vehicles, boats and lawn and garden equipment.

The American Petroleum Institute, a trade group representing U.S. natural gas and oil companies called the EPA’s plan for the new mix “premature.”

The institute on Wednesday published a study that argued that engines from late model cars experienced more engine failure while running on ethanol-blended gas.

“EPA is choosing to ignore the red flags in its headlong rush to allow more ethanol in gasoline, putting consumers and their vehicles at risk,” said the institute's Director of Downstream Operations, Bob Greco in the press release. He said, "Testing needs to be completed before this new fuel mixture is introduced into Americans’ gas tanks.”

The EPA is finalizing regulations to ensure the proper labeling of new pumps due to the damage it can cause to engines not equipped with parts able to operate with higher grade biofuels. 

The introduction of the new blend will be gradual at first, which has given ethanol producers adequate time to address any concerns about supply and demand.

“It’s probably a slower pace than we would like to see,” said Dave Loos, director of research and commercial development for the Illinois Corn Growers Association and Illinois Corn Marketing Board.

“Last year we produced 1.6 billion gallons of ethanol, that’s equivalent to 35% of the total gas use for the state of Illinois,” said Loos.

In 2011, U.S. corn growers produced 14 billion gallons of ethanol with an excess of 1 billion gallons going towards exports. On average, unblended ethanol costs $1.25 less per barrel then gasoline according to Loos.