The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is taking a different tactic to increasing ethanol blends available at fueling stations.
A new EPA proposal would reclassify ethanol blends above E15 as “ethanol flex fuels,” potentially opening the door to wider use of these blends, according to Hemmings Motor News and reported by Green Car Reports. The proposal would place fuels with 16 to 50 percent ethanol in the same category as E85.
Reclassifying ethanol blends would make more biofuels available to owners of flex-fuel vehicles. The EPA thinks its proposal could encourage more interest in flex-fuel vehicles and the “blender pumps” needed at fueling stations to add greater amounts of ethanol to gasoline. Drivers would have the option of deciding how much ethanol would be blended into their gasoline during the fueling.
In 2012, the EPA declared E15 suitable for all cars built in 2001 or later, which prompted several gas stations to allow for the 15-percent ethanol and 85-percent gasoline blend in their pumps. Several automakers have disputed E15 being pumped into gas tanks as the source of erosion and other problems in a car’s fuel system and engines. Cars sold at dealerships are built to run on E10 blends and no higher, automotive engineers have said.
Flex-fuel vehicles have been on the market for several years, with drivers capable of adding a blend up to 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. The EPA has continued support of biofuels since the Renewable Fuel Standard was adopted in Congress in 2005 and modified in 2007. While the corn ethanol used in E10 throughout the U.S. has been criticized for increasing environmental risks, the EPA sees ethanol and advanced biofuels as alternative fuel to support to reduce fossil fuel consumption.
Gas station owners have been hesitant to switch to blended fuel pumps. Many owners have said there’s a lack of consumer interest in blends of E15 or higher, and the cost of installation isn’t worth it.
Ethanol producers and agribusiness have been lobbying hard for E15 and higher, and for the EPA to increase production volume mandates in the Renewable Fuel Standard.
Oil industry advocates continued calling for an overhaul of the program and would like to see the ethanol blend eliminated, certainly not increased.
The EPA has proposed a modest increase in the amount of corn-based ethanol and biofuels blends that will be mixed into gasoline and diesel sold at fuel pumps in 2017.
A final ruling is expected to be issued by Nov. 30.
A bill was introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year to cap the annual amount of ethanol blended with gasoline but remains in committee.
The EPA is expected to put its new proposal for adding more ethanol blends to the flex-fuel category up for public comment in the near future.