Growth Energy, a new advocacy group promoting ethanol and biofuels, has submitted, on behalf of 52 US ethanol manufacturers, a request for a “green jobs” waiver allowing an increase in the ethanol blend limit from 10% (E10) up to 15% (E15) to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The waiver does not seek to mandate use of E15, but to remove the barrier to its optional use.
Announcing the submission at an event at the National Press Club in Washington DC, General Wesley Clark, USA (Ret.), co-chairman of Growth Energy, said that increasing the blend up to E15 would create 136,101 new jobs and inject $24.4 billion into the US economy annually. Growth Energy released a report earlier in the week on the economic impact of higher blends of ethanol.
General Clark also welcomed the opportunity to work with the USDA and EPA on efforts to provide short-term relief through a substantially similar waiver for E12 or E13.
To approve the higher ethanol blend request, the EPA needs to determine that ethanol blends up to 15% will not affect the emission control systems in vehicles.
In his speech, General Clark said that Growth Energy made the request to raise the cap based on multiple sources of scientific data showing that E15 has no adverse effects on a car’s performance, maintenance, or emissions controls.
A preliminary report released by the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in October 2008 on the use of intermediate E15 and E20 ethanol blends in 13 vehicles and 28 small non-road engines found that most of the regulated vehicle emissions from E15 and E20 use were within the normal test variation. No statistically significant change was detected. (Earlier post.)
A number of other studies on the effects of such lower mid-range blends are underway, focused on areas such as further investigation of tailpipe emissions, evaporative emissions, catalyst durability under higher temperatures, driveability, materials compatibility, and specialty engines.
In a letter to Gen. Clark prior to Growth Energy’s announcement, Beth Lowery, GM Vice President, Environment, Energy and Safety Policy, noted that while “GM has been, and continues to be, one of the strongest advocates for ethanol use”, the company would like to see “a more focused emphasis on addition testing” to understand the impacts of mid-level blends on the conventional fleet.
GM has produced more than 5 million flex-fuel vehicles capable of handling ethanol blends of up to 85% (E85), but still has remaining questions over the impact of mid-range blends on durability and catalyst lifetime in non-E85 gasoline vehicles, for example.
Lowery also noted that:
There remains a critical need to continue to support favorable policies for flex fuel growth, expand consumer education, develop a comprehensive blender pump rollout plan that includes labeling and enforcement, review certification fuel requirements and work together on cadence testing, and ensure OEM protection from field actions associated with a change to the base fuel.
In the cover letter accompanying the waiver application, Growth Energy noted that Ford Motor Company has endorsed efforts to increase the base blend level up to E15.
The fact is that the use of E15 and higher levels of ethanol is a complex issue, and it can’t be rushed by efforts that overlook the impacts on consumer safety and economic interests. OPEI fully supports congressional efforts to increase the use of cellulosic fuels. We can design products to run on higher levels of ethanol.—Kris Kiser, Executive Vice President at Outdoor Power Equipment Institute
However, Kiser said, existing small-engine equipment will likely experience performance irregularities and possible failure. In a new report cited by OPEI, independent researcher Dr. Ron Sahu critiqued the DOE report (above) that tested a small sample size of legacy vehicles and small non-road engines. DOE’s engine test results indicated that, for the off-road, non-vehicle engines:
Engine exhaust temperatures rose to an extent that may cause premature engine and equipment failure,
Safety hazards increased due to unintentional clutch engagement caused by high idle speeds,
Products were damaged to the point they could no longer operate, and numerous adverse operational issues arose – such as erratic engine and equipment operation, stalling of engines, and dramatic power reduction.
|“Moving to higher ethanol blends will help build on the foundation established by today’s ethanol to ensure a viable market for tomorrow’s advanced ethanol that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 86 percent compared to gasoline. But until we increase the cap, there will be no market for these breakthrough fuels.”|
—Vinod Khosla, biofuels investor
and founder of Khosla Ventures
(DOE also noted that the effect of E15 and E20 on the durability of smaller, less expensive residential engines (e.g., line trimmers) was not clear given that a number of these engines failed regardless of fuel type.)
In his remarks, Gen. Clark noted that the waiver request would not impact small engines since gas stations would still be able to sell lower blends of ethanol, including gasoline with zero ethanol (E0).
The study released by Growth Energy earlier this week found that another 6 billion gallons of ethanol production capacity would be needed to meet the demand for ethanol at a 15% blend rate. In addition to the annual employment and economic contribution of the additional production, the construction of these new facilities would lead to a one-time economic boost of $36.8 billion and create more than 260,000 new construction-related jobs.
Cover letter to waiver application
Brian West, Keith Knoll, Wendy Clark, Ronald Graves, John Orban, Steve Przesmitzki, Timothy Theiss (2008) Effects of Intermediate Ethanol Blends on Legacy Vehicles and Small Non-Road Engines, Report 1 (NREL/TP-540-43543, ORNL/TM-2008/117)
Preliminary Comments on the DOE report prepared for OPEI