Ethanol Industry Urges EPA to Take New Look at Midlevel Blends

Source: By Jeff Barber, OPIS • Posted: Monday, September 11, 2017

The U.S. ethanol industry is hoping it can obtain from the Trump administration something it could not get from the Obama White House: an acknowledgement that higher levels of ethanol blended with gasoline can play a role in improving automotive fuel economy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation said in March that they would reconsider a Jan. 12 determination by then-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy that concluded automakers were well-positioned to meet 2022-2025 fuel efficiency and GHG emission goals at lower costs than previously estimated.

McCarthy’s final “mid-term evaluation” was part of a process created under a 2012 rule establishing final Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and GHG emission standards for model year 2017-2025 vehicles that required the agency to determine by April 1, 2018, whether the standards covering the model years 2022-2025 continue to be appropriate.

At a Wednesday public hearing on EPA’s reconsideration, the ethanol industry urged the agency to use the review as an opportunity to take a new look at the role ethanol can play in meeting the CAFE-GHG standards.

“We believe the progress made by the CAFE-GHG program will plateau unless EPA increases the octane rating of fuel used in future engines,” Brian Jennings, executive director of the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE), said in his testimony.

“Unfortunately, the January determination issued by former Administrator McCarthy missed the opportunity to provide high-octane blends a role in improving fuel economy and reducing CO2 emissions. EPA instructed automakers to do a job, but wouldn’t give them access to one of the most useful tools in the toolbox.”

Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), delivered a similar message, telling the agency that the organization believes that future CAFE and GHG standards “can work in tandem with programs like the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) to advance the important policy objectives of reducing fossil fuel consumption and decreasing transportation-related emissions.”

Dinneen added that RFA was “disappointed by the premature and seemingly predestined outcome” of Obama administration’s mid-term evaluation. “It was readily apparent that the previous administration disregarded comments from RFA and many other stakeholders — including the automakers — that encouraged EPA to evaluate engines and fuels as integrated systems … .”

He said RFA was encouraged that in its request for comments on the reconsideration of the January determination EPA specifically sought comments on “the impact of the standards on advanced fuels technology, including … the potential for high-octane blends.”

New engine technologies that automakers are now working on, including high compression engines, “are enabled by a high-octane, low-carbon fuel blend,” Dinneen said, adding that research conducted by the Department of Energy and others has shown that ethanol “is an ideal source of octane for such high- octane fuel blends.”

In addition, Dinneen said that joining advanced engine technologies with high- octane, low-carbon fuel, “would result in far greater fuel economy and emissions benefits than previously contemplated” by the government.

A high-octane fuel “could be produced today simply by blending 25-30% ethanol with existing gasoline blendstocks. However, due to the inertia of fuel and vehicle markets, this transition will not occur on its own. Action by EPA is necessary to catalyze the development and introduction of high-octane, low- carbon fuels into the consumer market.”

Chris Bliley, vice president of regulatory affairs for Growth Energy, also welcomed EPA’s decision to take comment on higher octane blends, and told the agency that ethanol is a “proven high-octane fuel that has many other benefits that assist in combustion to increase engine efficiency and reduce both tailpipe greenhouse gas and criteria pollutant emissions.”

ACE’s Jennings urged EPA to “establish a minimum octane for fuel” as part of its review “and encourage the continued production of flexible fuel vehicles as a bridge to emerging engine technologies which will be optimized to take advantage of high-octane benefits of such blends as E25 and 30.”

And Dinneen recommended that the agency take several actions in the revised final determination, including treating future engines and fuels as integrated systems, conducting a “robust” cost-benefit analysis of various CAFE-GHG compliance pathways that includes the use of high-octane fuel in optimized engines and “laying out a regulatory roadmap to broad commercial introduction of high-octane, low-carbon fuel in advanced internal combustion engines.”