Half of States Are Already Past the “Blend Wall”

Source: By Rebecca Chillrud, EESI • Posted: Monday, December 19, 2016

New data released by the Department of Energy for 2015 show that for the first time, 25 states reached average ethanol levels beyond the E10 blend wall. Though critics argue that ethanol levels in the fuel supply should not reach levels greater than 10 percent, these states are showing that this “blend wall” may not be as problematic as some groups believe. Additionally, the national average ethanol level is approaching 10 percent. In 2015, the United States mixed an average of 9.91 percent ethanol in gasoline, up from 9.83 percent the previous year.

Progress in Every State

The new data show that all states are moving forward with renewable fuels. 2015 was the first time that every state in the union had average ethanol levels greater than nine percent—Vermont, which had the lowest average ethanol content, came in at 9.18 percent. Of the states that are beyond ten percent, most are at around 10.4 for 2015.

Minnesota had the highest average ethanol content at 12.5 percent. Part of that is due to the large number of E85 fueling stations in Minnesota, which allow consumers with flex-fuel vehicles (approximately 17 million in the United States) to fill up with a mix of 85 percent ethanol, 15 percent traditional gasoline. The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) noted that one in eight gas stations in Minnesota offers E85, making it much easier for consumers to access than in many other states.

Breaking the Blend Wall

Currently, about 95 percent of U.S. gasoline is sold as E10 (10 percent ethanol, 90 percent gasoline). Thus far, there has been reluctance to move beyond E10 because of the perceived “blend wall,” the idea that infrastructure and engines would need to be updated to be compatible with blends above E10.

Despite the so-called “blend wall,” the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved E15 (15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline) for use in model year 2001 and newer vehicles—this represents over 80 percent of the cars on the road today. Vehicle manufacturers have also certified the use of E15 in two-thirds of model year 2015 vehicles on the U.S. market.

“As E15 and ethanol flexfuels like E85 have gained in popularity in recent years, the so-called blend wall has been reduced to a pile of rubble,” said RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen. Going forward, this new data may have an effect on the bill introduced by Reps. Bill Flores (R-TX) and Peter Welch (D-VT), which proposes to cap nationwide average ethanol content at 9.7 percent. As the DOE data shows, the United States as a whole is already beyond that level, and some states are significantly beyond it, showing it to be a totally artificial constraint.

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