Biofuels industry lauds automakers for approving higher ethanol fuel blend

Source: By Zack Colman, The Hill • Posted: Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Automakers Chrysler, Ford and General Motors Inc. have approved use of a higher concentration of ethanol fuel in new vehicles — a significant victory for the biofuels industry.

New Chrysler, GM and Ford vehicles will accept a fuel blend that’s 15 percent ethanol, as opposed to the standard 10 percent blend. For GM, that will begin with 2012 models, while Ford and Chrysler will accommodate the fuel in 2013 models, according to Oil Price Information Service, which first reported the news.

The auto industry’s resistance to higher blends of ethanol — which it says are more corrosive to older engine models — has long been a roadblock in getting higher concentrations of ethanol fuel blends on the market.

Clearing that is important for the biofuels industry, which has said it needs the higher blend, known as E15, to meet a mandate that requires refiners to blend 36 billion gallons of biofuels into traditional transportation fuel by 2022.

“The pressure is now on other auto manufacturers to follow suit or explain why they offer substandard equipment,” Monte Shaw, executive director for the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said in a Tuesday statement.

Auto industry resistance to E15 has long been a major part of Republicans’ and a main oil trade group’s criticism of the fuel.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) has lobbied Congress that automakers would not honor warranties for engine damage caused by higher concentrations of ethanol fuel.

GM spokeswoman Sharon Basel indicated the company still advises against using E15 in vehicles made before the model year 2012, explaining that motorists should consult their manuals for proper fueling procedures.

That is a key point because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said vehicles made in 2001 or later can handle E15 fuel. The U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia upheld that ruling in August

“GM as part of an industry group has performed a multitude of tests on 2001 and newer vehicles that are included in the EPA regulations for E15 and have found that damage to the vehicle’s engines resulted,” Basel said in an email.

API and Republicans have pushed back against the EPA’s decision, citing the automakers’ reluctance to honor warranties for engine damage.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) told The Hill on Tuesday that the automakers’ decision to allow E15 in newer models does not change what he considered misguided EPA policy on the fuel.

“But while the EPA decided E15 was safe for all cars made after 2001, automakers unanimously disagreed,” he said in an email. “For most vehicles on the road, and for those Americans who can’t afford to buy a new car in this economy, E15 will damage engines and void warranties.”