EPA allows 15% ethanol in “gasoline”
October 13, 2010, the Environmental Protection
Agency issued its long awaited ruling on the
amount of ethanol allowed in “gasoline”. Currently,
the ethanol limit is 10%, but that limit has been
raised to 15%.
How did we get here? Well, in
March, 2009, ethanol producers due to an oversupply
of ethanol asked the EPA to raise the limit to 15%.
An oversupply of ethanol has prompted a wave of
bankruptcies and made the ethanol industry eager to
expand its market. Ethanol producers are being
squeezed as corn prices stay relatively high and as
ethanol prices stay relatively low. Todd Alexander,
a partner at Chadbourne & Parke LLP, estimates that
some ethanol producers are losing up to 10 cents on
every gallon of ethanol.
There was massive
push back to the request from all automobile
manufacturers, including GM, because ethanol
dissolves some gaskets and rubbers within the fuel
system, and can generally foul up your carburetor.
Auto manufacturers, along with the manufacturers of
virtually any other internal combustion engine, from
boat engines to leaf blowers, were concerned that
they would be left holding the bag for expensive
repairs should you be lucky enough to own one of
these machines that is still under warranty.
But, the EPA’s investigation of “big ethanol’s”
request was complicated by none other than Congress.
Congress required fuel refiners to blend 36
billion gallons of biofuels, mostly ethanol, into
auto fuel by 2022.
And, the EPA came to the
conclusion that there was no way this requirement
could be met unless “gasoline” contained 15%
So, here is where we stand. E15 is
now allowed for any automobiles with a model year of
2007 or later. Any vehicles older than that will
still have to use E10 due to the potential damage to
their fuel systems. And, how this will be
implemented is anyone’s guess. Will a new pump
suddenly materialize at every gas station pumping
only E-15? And, if it did, why would anyone use E-15
given the reduced miles per gallon from E-15
compared to E-10?
Here’s one way to look at
this last question.
A car that gets 25 miles
per gallon on gasoline would get 24.1 mpg on E-10,
and 23.7 on E-15.
I’m still having trouble
reconciling the EPA’s rulings about ethanol (and the
resulting lowering of mpg), with the Department of
Transportation’s CAFE regulations requiring that by
2016 a manufacturer’s combined fleet average for all
new cars and trucks must be 35 mpg, a significant
increase in mpg from where we are today.