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EPA Launches Task Force to Review Boutique Fuels

Map of federal and boutique fuel requirements in the US, as of January 2006. Click to enlarge. Source: ExxonMobil

Following through on a directive given last week by President Bush to reduce the number of boutique fuels, (earlier post) Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Stephen Johnson launched a task force on Thursday to review the boutique fuels used across the county.

Fuel composition and quality are proven and effective measures for emissions reductions. In general, the federal Clean Air Act sets the standards for gasoline—there are six different kinds of fuels (RFG and low RVP) in the federal programs. However, areas having a proven air quality need can adopt unique clean fuel requirements to address those special needs or non-attainment classifications. Boutique fuels are the specialized blends produced for a specific state or area of the country to meet those specific state and local air quality requirements.

Roughly 15 states have adopted their own clean fuel programs for part or all of the state. These state fuel programs make up nine different kinds of fuels. The combination of the federal and boutique programs was, according to the EPA, “intended to reflect a balance that allows areas sufficient flexibility to accomplish air quality needs.

Although the boutique fuels deliver “substantial air quality and public health benefits” at minimal cost, according to the EPA, the fuels may present “serious challenges to the fuel distribution system and, especially in times of disruption, may have the potential to result in local supply shortages.”

The mandate of the task force is to simplify and unify the system of fuel regulations (i.e., to reduce the number of fuels), as well as increase cooperation among states on gasoline supply decisions.

EPA’s goal is to provide the president with a final report within six to eight weeks. In order to meet this timeline, EPA will hold a series of meetings to provide states the opportunity to present their views and recommendations. EPA also will involve industry experts, public health organizations and other interested parties.




OK, so I have no idea what the assorted abbreviations mean in each of those so-called botique fuels, but I do know that RVP is rapid vapor pressure, and that a low number evaporates less easily (resulting in less smog) but a higher number is easier to start in cold weather.

So, here's the thing: any of these RVPs could be used in places where conventional fuel is used -- so, just produce more RVP fuel than you need, and sell the rest off elsewhere. Supply chain problem fixed. It seems to me like it would also make sense to try to expand the places which use RVP 7.0 (or better yet, RVP 7.0 S 30 ppm) in the South so that it's more common, which would make the fuel standard seem less "botiquey" and more normal in places like LA, TX, OK, FL, TN, and NC.

The same goes for the CBGs. Combine the two California CBGs to whichever is cleaner (I'd bet it's RFG/CA CBG). Then, get Arizona and Nevada to use the same fuel. There -- you've just reduced the number of specialized fuels by three.

Furthermore, with the MTBE ban nationwide, hasn't the yellow Texas 7.8 RVP MTBE-No Increase beccome 7.8 RVP, thereby eliminating that specialized fuel and "painting" the Eastern half of Texas brown?

So, I've set up proposals to reduce the number of botiques from 16 to 11, and encouraged the reformulated RVPs in the South to all move toward 7.0 RVP which should waste less fuel and still have the vapor pressure necessary to start on cold days. I'd also suggest that more areas adopt a specialty fuel, and work with neighboring counties/states to choose the single specialized fuel that makes sense for the entire region. In the case of VT, upstate NH, ME, and upstate NY, switch from conventional or 7.8 RVP to RFG North or N RFG w/Ethanol. In the South, expand the use of RFG-South and 7.0 RVP 30 ppm S while reducing the use of other specialized and conventional fuel. California, NV, and AZ can move to RFG/CA CBG, and expand its use throughout the rest of NV, AZ, NM, and into TX.

And voila! The refinery companies get fewer specialized fuels and larger markets to make their supply chain easier to manage, and the citizens get cleaner air.

This was easy!


Don't worry stomv,
They will try to force states to use less restrictive fuels. Then states will complain, and go to court. Then they will fight with our money for few months and we will be back to way we are now.
This is US government, somehow I have a feeling that if they fallow your formula it would be too logical.

Tim Russell

One problem with selling these fuels where not required, they reduce power and MPG slightly but multiplied over thousands of vehicles it ads up. It would be simpler if they could reduce the number of fuel blends.

RVP = Reed vapor pressure BTW

More info http://www.barneymc.com/toy_root/gen_info/gas_info.htm


One of the problems might be that the oil and refining companies may not want to upgrade their refineries to produce these fuels in regional markets. It would be cheaper for them to just produce less demanding grades for everyone.


if only it were as simple as stomv made it sound: gov't bad, cleaner fuels good.

but it isn't. boutique fuels are more expensive and people are very touchy about fuel prices right now. if the gov't increases the areas that have to use special fuels, they had better make sure the public believes that these fuels are absolutely necessary.

in some of these areas, they may not be. they improve local emissions, which is great for cities with airflow problems, but most american still live out in the country where the car density is low enough that people could run with catalytic converters and nobody would notice except maybe when they walked past an idling car. i'm not recommending that cat's shouldn't be required, just saying that any additional costs should be carefully considered before being added


One of the problems might be that the oil and refining companies may not want to upgrade their refineries to produce these fuels in regional markets. It would be cheaper for them to just produce less demanding grades for everyone.

This is what I was tongue in cheek referring to. The problem, from the perspective of refiners, isn't the number of botique fuels. It's that the profit margin on botique fuels is less than "standard". So, if we reduced the number of botique fuels by making the less-stringent botique fuels conform to the even more stringent standards, that wouldn't please the refiners one bit.

They're using "number of botique fuels" as a bulls*#t excuse by badmouthing local environmental regulations designed to reduce local pollution -- a sort of "states right" issue. Even the name "botique fuel" is a matter of framing, making it sound fancypants stylish instead of scientifically advanced. It's not botique and trendy -- it's specialized to be less harmful to humans in the long run. Refiners don't like that because, well, it results in smaller profit margins, which is what this whole thing is about: the GOP walking the line of oil companies, yet again, in direct conflict with public interest.



"...but most american still live out in the country..."



Actauly you know if your in support of these fuels your also supporting hydrogen? Thats how they MAKE the fuels they use hydrogen to make the cneaner versions of gasoline.

The main issue is most of them require quite a bit more energy to make energy that means they use more oil.

They also reduce fuel eff and thus combined with the greater oil needed to make em greatly reduce the efficent use of oil and thus increase greenhouse has emmssions.

But ya we wont talk about that will we?


sorry, i had my facts reversed. in 1990 75% of the US pop was in urban areas, 25% rural, according to the census. for some reason i thought it was the other way around.

my apologies.

if anyone is interested, as of 2000, roughly 47% of the world pop was urban.

myself included, sadly. before 2000, i'd always lived in small towns.

tom deplume

Where is the evidence that these additives have any positive health benefits at such dilute levels. If these areas want less pollution from vehicles they should ration the amount sold in their areas. The cleanest fuel is the one that doesn't get burned in an engine.

gerald earl

Refiners pass the cost of boutique fuels on to us so I dont think they are that concerned about its profitibility.They are responding to the "crisis" of high gas prices.
What if the hydrogen used to produce these fuels was diverted to fuel honda hes units in homes thereby displacing the need for coal fired plants?
It may be that boutique fuels are no longer the most efficient way to realize clean air gains.Im not an engineer or a phd so this may be a dumb idea.Asking questions and rethinking conventional wisdom is still probably a wise thing to do from time to time.Just ask GM. They had the answers,the market and oodles of money.They saw no reason to question their busin
es model.
With the advent of accelerating technological advancements it may be self defeating to remain married to one idea to the exclusion of other possibly superior ones.
P.S. Would E85 availlability in these areas be cleaner than boutiques?{I know we dont have enough now}

Rafael Seidl

Rather than build expensive distribution for fuels for just a few states or even counties, the US should encourage vehicle owners to sell any old clunkers they might have. Note that smog tests are evaluated based on the emissions regs that were in force at the time of type certification, plus a generous margin to account for the limited accuracy of the test equipment at your corner smog check provider. So passing does not mean your vehicle is clean compared to a new model, merely that it hasn't got much worse due to wear and tear (piston/liner, catalyst).

Germany is setting up a system of stickers for diesel cars, reflecting the specific emissions standard they were certified to (Euro 1, 2, 3, 4). Anyone who has a DPF filter in a car that passed Euro 4 even without it already gets a "5" sticker, even though that level will not apply until 2010 for LDVs. On days with severe PM loading, typically in winter, towns will be allowed to curtail the use of diesel cars that do not have a sticker number of or higher than the minimum they define. The idea is controversial among owners of older vehicles, of course, but it certainly helped force (German) carmakers to offer DPFs as standard or optional equipment on most models - even though they had spent years optimizing their designs so they could meet the current Euro 4 standard without them!

Of course, if diesels ever achieve a significant share of the LDV market, they will feature DPFs plus NOx aftertreatment or HCCI combustion in part load.


Actuallty I suspect the refineries will appreciate the simplification process. A number of years ago, around five or so I think, I read an article about how these blends impact prices. One important thing to remember is that the standards require loads of these blends to be pure, so all equipment used during the process and the trucks have to be cleaned out before you can start a batch. Throw in the fact that these blends can require truck routing to be less efficient as a truck can only be used to carry that specific fuel, plus its only allowed to be sold in approved areas, and it creates an expensive logistics issue for the refiners and trucking companies. Simplifying the number of fuels would likely help prices assuming the refineries pass the reduced costs down to consumers (don't count on it).

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