Biofuels supporters fault study finding E15-related damage

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Biofuels supporters are crying foul over a study released this morning by an oil-industry-backed group that shows fuel containing 15 percent ethanol could damage the fuel systems of cars on the road.

The American Petroleum Institute early today touted the report, saying it underscored the need to both reverse U.S. EPA’s approval of E15 and repeal the federal renewable fuels standard. But the Renewable Fuels Association, the nation’s major ethanol trade group, today questioned the motives and methods of the study, saying it appeared to be rigged to fail.

To test the effects of E15, RFA said on a conference call with reporters, the study used some cars that had been previously recalled for reasons unrelated to ethanol and tested the vehicles on a questionable fuel mixture based on specifications that are more than two decades old.

“All of these components were selected with the anticipation that they would be sensitive to higher levels of ethanol,” said Bob Reynolds, president of downstream alternatives at the association. “It’s kind of like saying we’ve got this new gimmick that we want to see if it causes lung cancer, but we’re only going to give it to people that smoke three packs a day.”

The study by the Coordinating Research Council, a research organization funded by the oil and auto industries, found gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol, or E15, could cause critical fuel components in cars to break down and potentially leave cars stranded on the side of the road (Greenwire, Jan. 29).

EPA has approved the fuel for use in light-duty cars with model years 2001 or newer based on testing by the Department of Energy; currently, fuel containing 10 percent ethanol is the norm. According to RFA, there are 270 million vehicles on the road today, 68 percent of which are approved to use E15.

In its call today, RFA said the CRC study prompted too many questions, including why it used several car models that have been recalled by auto manufacturers. The organization also questioned why the study did not make references to sulfur, which has been identified as a leading cause of fatal failures in fuel systems.

The ethanol trade group also faulted the study for using an aggressive blend of E15 that did not mirror the fuel currently found in the marketplace.

“This isn’t real testing, and this certainly isn’t real life. Enough already with the scare tactics,” said Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the association.

Other ethanol trade groups were also swift to respond.

“This is just another ghost story, told by people who stand to lose market share when consumers finally have access to E15,” said Ron Lamberty, senior vice president for the American Coalition for Ethanol. “We shouldn’t be surprised at Big Oil’s latest attempt to scare consumers — they’ve shown no shame in twisting test results to protect their market share.”

Earlier today, oil industry representatives said the CRC testing was consistent with industry standards. The group ran several different fuel components on four types of fuel, including the aggressive blend of E15 and a common E15 mixture.

The CRC has conducted many tests on engine durability over the years and began its midlevel ethanol blend project about five years ago. Biofuels groups did not participate in this study but have previously helped fund and participate in other research the organization has done.

The Consumer Energy Alliance, a broad group that represents agricultural, transportation, refining and manufacturing interests, said the report highlighted ongoing concerns that the federal renewable fuel standard, which mandates certain levels of biofuel production a year, was not working as intended.

“This is yet another data point that shows that the renewable fuel standard should be more closely examined to make sure it’s not putting undue pressure on motor fuels markets and different industries from agriculture to transportation,” said David Holt, the group’s president.