More Gas Stations Commit to Selling E15, Oil Industry Fights Against Higher Ethanol Blends

Source: Jessie Stolark, EESI • Posted: Monday, January 26, 2015

On January 20, Sheetz Convenience Stores announced that 60 of their stores would begin offering E15 (15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline) in early 2016. This week, Protec Fuel also opened their first E15 fueling station in South Florida at North Miami’s Caraf Oil.  Protec plans to open 28 E15 fueling stations in the Southeast. While these stations represent just a small portion of the roughly 168,000 gas stations in the United States, increasing the amount of ethanol in the fuel supply has proven difficult, despite the moderate cost of switching to E15.  According to a recent analysis by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), the barriers toward shifting the fuel supply from E10 to E15 are largely economic and not technical.

E15 is the most tested fuel in the marketplace today. The Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have certified its use in make and model years 2001 and newer, which represents more than 80 percent of all vehicles on the road today. These fuels have also been found to be safe for use with existing infrastructure, including gas station pumping equipment.  Additionally, over 70 percent of auto manufacturers have certified the use of E15 in new 2015 vehicles.

Ethanol advocates have championed E15 as an incremental step towards moving the United States move past the E10 “blend wall,” the point at which the fuel supply is saturated with 10 percent ethanol. While changes in infrastructure and vehicle technology are needed to utilize higher blends, mid-level blends, such as E15, require smaller changes to the current infrastructure.  Despite the fact that there are at least 12 million FlexFuel Vehicles (capable of using blends up to E85) on the road today, blends higher than E10 are considered specialty markets, since they represent less than one percent of the total fuel volume sold in the United States. Therefore, moving towards E15 represents a further erosion of the oil industries’ virtual monopoly on the U.S. fuels market.

While E15 use was approved by the EPA in 2009, its adoption by fuel retailers has been slow.  Despite this extensive testing and certification, the oil industry has fought hard against increasing the standard blend above E10.  For instance, the Smarter Fuel Future, a group funded by the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, the American Meat Institute, the National Marine Manufacturers Association and others claim that “gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol (E15) — can wreak havoc on engines by causing corrosion, rubber swelling and other damages” and urge individuals to write to their Member of Congress to tell them that E15 damages engines.

While it’s true that use of E15 could cause drivers to void their warranty on older cars, no evidence of damage or misfiling has been recorded in over the 100 million miles driven by consumers on this fuel since 2012, nor in the 6 million miles driven in EPA and DOE testing. Incremental changes to the fuel supply are needed to wean the United States off fossil fuel, to clean up the transportation sector and lower its carbon emissions. The alternative is continued reliance on the status quo – oil. As more and more miles are driven on E15, hopefully auto manufacturers will be compelled to certify their use in 2001 and newer models, as EPA and DOE have, giving the oil industry one less false argument against E15.