CARB Winds Up E15 Media Review, Eyes Rulemaking To Allow Blend In State

Source: By Curt Barry, Inside EPA • Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2022

California air board officials are winding up a years-long multimedia-impact review of gasoline with 15 percent ethanol (E15), which may bolster justification for a new rulemaking to allow the fuel blend to be used in most vehicles in the state, sources say.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is expected soon to post results of its E15 multimedia review, including tests showing the fuel reduces most emissions of particulate matter (PM), carbon monoxide and gaseous hydrocarbons when compared with California’s current reformulated gasoline (RFG) that contains 10 percent ethanol, according to one source closely following the issue.

However, the tests also show that E15 does not reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from engines any more than RFG, the source says.

Nevertheless, the completion of the multimedia review “means [CARB] would have all the data they need to begin the approval process,” the source adds.

If CARB approves a new E15 specification under its clean fuels rules, it is expected to provide a boon to ethanol producers across the country that transport the fuel to California and earn valuable credits under the state’s low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS).

It would also likely bolster their efforts to get federal officials to permanently approve the fuel’s use year-round as summertime sales are currently only allowed on an emergency basis. The agency earlier this year provided an emergency waiver of fuel volatility limits to allow summer sales of E15 in other states besides California, in part to help provide relief from high gasoline prices.

House lawmakers also recently approved a bill with bipartisan support to authorize year-round sales of E15, offering a permanent way to bypass a federal appeals court ruling blocking summertime sales. However, prospects for the measure appear doubtful in the Senate where supporters must clear a 60-vote bar to succeed.

In 2019, CARB reported it was advancing a suite of new clean fuel regulatory concepts, including a specification allowing E15 to be used in model year 2002 and later vehicles.

“Staff is considering adopting an E15 alternative fuel specification that would allow E15 to be used in 2002 and later model year cars, and to be distributed using infrastructure that is rated to handle up to E85,” stated an Oct. 2, 2019, CARB staff concept paper. “What the contents of this specification might be, and whether we adopt the specification will depend on the results of the current multimedia evaluation,” says the paper, the “California Fuels Update.”

Inside EPA reported in June 2019 that CARB was conducting a multimedia evaluation of the potential effects of allowing E15 to be sold in the state, in response to a request from the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) and individual ethanol producers. The sector has long urged California officials to lift their current 10 percent ethanol limit in gasoline.

The evaluation examines E15’s possible impacts on air quality, water quality, soil and other environmental media.

The source close to the issue says the air quality piece of the evaluation was conducted on 20 vehicles by the Center for Environmental Research & Technology at the University of California-Riverside, with funding provided by CARB, the U.S. Council for Automotive Research, and RFA.

Current Restrictions

CARB currently only allows a maximum of 10 percent ethanol (E10) in gasoline to be sold in the state, in part to prevent any potential damage to engines and hoses in a variety of on- and off-road vehicles and equipment as well as to ensure the emissions-reduction capabilities of fuel storage tanks and dispensing equipment.

In 2019, CARB staff warned in the concept paper that “recent analysis using the gasoline predictive model suggests that higher blends of ethanol may increase NOx emissions from gasoline. As part of our multimedia evaluation of higher blends of ethanol, further study of E15 emissions will take place, and depending on these results we may consider adopting an alternative fuel specification for E15.”

A CARB spokesman declined to comment on when the completion of the multimedia review will be announced, but said last week that it was expected any day. He also declined to say whether or when CARB may propose a new alternative fuel specification to allow use of E15. Such a rulemaking could take a year to complete.

Environmentalists have long been wary of E15 use in the Golden State. “First, higher blends of ethanol may increase NOx emissions from gasoline, and we desperately need to decrease NOx,” a source said in 2019. “Second, most ethanol still comes from corn, and may increase greenhouse gas emissions on a lifecycle basis. So, any proposal for higher ethanol blends has to be scrutinized carefully to make sure it is not exacerbating air pollution and climate change.” — Curt Barry (