E15 ethanol report is flawed, says DOE

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E15's reputation as a lower-emission fuel is being tarnished by an oil industry report. Image: Ewan-M/Flickr/CC BY-SA

The U.S. Department of Energy today disputed a new report by the oil industry’s Coordinating Research Council, which concludes that E15 fuel — a gasoline, ethanol mix — can damage some engines.

Contains 15 percent ethanol

E15 contains 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline. It is the highest ratio of ethanol to gas recommended for use by any U.S. automaker. The less-ethanol-dense E10 is rated for use in all U.S. cars.

The Coordinating Research Council is funded by eight automakers and the American Petroleum Institute. Mike Stanton, president and CEO of the Association of Global Automakers, said:

“Our goal is to ensure that new alternative fuels are not placed into retail until it has been proven they are safe and do not cause harm to vehicles, consumers, or the environment.”

Disputes EPA findings

Thursday’s report disputes an Environmental Protection Agency study that last year rated E15 for most American-sold vehicles built between 2001 and 2009.

According to the Coordinating Research Council, the EPA decided to recommend E15 prematurely. It says the federal regulator based its findings on data conducted for a DOE study of catalytic converters, instead of waiting for more specific data.

Stanton said:

“The EPA should have waited until all the studies on the potential impacts of E15 on the current fleet were completed.”

Eight engines tested

The two-year study concluded that some high-volume car and truck models running on E15 could sustain engine damage over a prolonged period. Eight different engine types, built between 2001 and 2009, were tested, running on E15. The engines were measured against identical control engines that were run on gasoline.

The study examined cylinder compression, valve leakage and wear, engine emissions and emissions-control diagnostics over 500-hour testing cycles. According to the report, that is the equivalent of about 100,000 miles on the road. A quarter of the engines running on E15 showed signs of lowered fuel efficiency, lower performance, valve damage and misfiring. Another emitted pollutants over the legal limit

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DOE, others cry foul

The DOE, however, took exception with the study on several counts. First, the federal agency balked that the engines were not tested against controls running on E10 to provide a more accurate baseline. Also, valve damage and engine leaks were used to determine engine damage, which is a different criteria than used in other studies. Finally, it said, some of the engines used in the test have already been documented as problematic.

The DOE said:

“Several engines already known to have durability issues (were tested), including one that was subject to a recall involving valve problems. It is no surprise that an engine having problems with traditional fuels might also fail with E15.”

Since automakers are capable of making engines that run efficiently on E15, Torque News viewed the oil industry’s report as “simply grousing and hedging over having to build engines that will operate with 15 percent ethanol.”

The Association of Global Automakers

The Association of Global Automakers is a coalition composed of Aston Martin, Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Maserati, Mclaren, Nissan, Subaru, Suzuki, and Toyota.

Infrastructure required

At this time, E15 is not available at the nation’s gas stations. Before its adoption, an infrastructure of so-called “blender pumps” would need to be in place.


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