Answer: In March 2009, EPA received a formal CAA waiver request from the ethanol industry to raise the allowable ethanol content in gasoline for conventional passenger vehicles from 10% (E10) to 15% (E15). In October 2010, after an extensive evaluation, EPA granted a partial waiver for the use of E15 in Model Year (MY) 2007 and newer light-duty vehicles. In January 2011, EPA granted a second partial waiver for the use of E15 in MY 2001 and newer light-duty vehicles.
So when will I see E15 at my local gas station?
The EPA waivers were just the first step in the process of bringing E15 to the market. State and federal agencies have begun to tackle the many additional issues that must be addressed. In the last two months, EPA has made the following announcements:
- E15 Labeling and Other Requirements. On June 27, EPA finalized new requirements to help ensure that E15 is properly labeled and used once it enters the market. Specifically, this rule outlined a label that must appear on all E15 fueling pumps to alert customers that the fuel may only be used in certain vehicles. In addition, the rule officially prohibits misfueling MY 2000 and older conventional gasoline vehicles with E15 and sets other requirements for E15 producers, distributors, and sellers. For more information, refer to the final rule in the Federal Register: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-07-25/html/2011-16459.htm.
- Underground Storage Tank Guidance. On July 5, EPA finalized guidance for owners and operators of underground storage tanks (USTs) containing ethanol blends greater than E10. The guidance will assist these entities in demonstrating compliance with federal regulations requiring USTs to be compatible with the fuel stored. For more information, refer to the final guidance in the Federal Register: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-07-05/html/2011-16738.htm.
What else must be done?
Before any fuel can be sold in the United States, manufacturers must register it with EPA’s Fuel and Fuel Additives program (http://www.epa.gov/otaq/fuels.htm). As of August 10, 2011, E15 had not yet been fully registered with EPA. Other federal regulations must also be addressed. In addition, state laws and regulations limiting sale of E15 must be amended before the fuel can be sold in certain states. These state provisions include ethanol blend cap restrictions, biofuels mandates, and technical fuel specification standards.
Supplemental Information and Resources
It will no doubt take time to update laws and regulations to allow the sale of E15, and address other barriers. An exact timeframe is not known. For more information on the EPA partial waivers and to stay up-to-date on new developments related to E15, please reference the following resources:
- EPA’s E15 website: http://www.epa.gov/otaq/regs/fuels/additive/e15/
- Alternative Fuels & Advanced Vehicles Data Center (AFDC)’s Technology Bulletin: E15 Approved for Use in 2001 and Newer Vehicles: http://www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/technology_bulletin_1210.html
In addition, the U.S. Government Accountability (GAO) Office recently published a report, Biofuels: Challenges to the Transportation, Sale, and Use of Intermediate Ethanol Blends (http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11513.pdf), which identifies three additional key challenges to the retail sale of E15 and other intermediate ethanol blends:
- Compatibility. Intermediate ethanol blends may degrade or damage some materials used in existing UST systems and dispensing equipment, potentially causing leaks. Studies that test fuel storage and dispensing components and equipment are needed to fully understand the effects of intermediate ethanol blends.
- Cost. New storage and dispensing equipment that is compatible with intermediate ethanol blends may be needed to sell the fuel at retail outlets. Currently, according to the GAO, the total cost of installing a compatible single-tank UST system and fuel dispenser is estimated to be more than $120,000. Costs will range widely depending on equipment replacement needs.
- Liability. Many fuel retailers are concerned about potential liability issues if consumers misfuel their MY 2000 or older automobiles or non-road engines with E15. This issue was partially addressed by the recent E15 labeling rule, but concerns may still exist.
The GAO report identifies several ongoing EPA and U.S. Department of Energy studies that are addressing these and other challenges.