What is in Store for E-15 Ethanol Fuel Blend?

Will a 15% blend of ethanol and gasoline take hold as a key component in the U.S. transportation fuel mix? Emerson’s Douglas Morris, a member of the alternative energy team explores this question in today’s guest post.

Emerson's Douglas MorrisThis week marked the first appearance of the transportation fuel, E-15, in a Lawrence, Kansas USA gas station. As a refresher, E-15 is a gasoline blend of 15 percent ethanol and came about after a couple of partial waivers by the EPA to the Clean Air Act. The first, in October 2010, allowed a blend of E-15 in car models manufactured in 2007 or later. In January of 2011, a second waiver made E-15 available to cars manufactured in 2001 or later.

New York Times: E15 Ethanol ArticleIn the New York Times article, In Kansas, Stronger Mix of Ethanol, published yesterday, the author does a nice job of summarizing some of the current challenges facing the ethanol industry:

“Ethanol’s success — and its challenges — are in large part a result of conflicting federal mandates. In 2007, Congress decided to wean the country off gasoline by specifying how much “renewable” fuel, mostly ethanol, to require in the national fuel supply. Oil companies must blend ever-increasing amounts of ethanol into motor fuel or face possible penalties.

At the same time, the government is also requiring automakers to improve the fuel economy of new cars, reducing consumption of all fuels. By the 2025 model year, cars will have to go twice as far on a gallon as they do now.”

E-15 faces a number of pretty significant hurdles before it has a chance of taking off. Although the Lawrence, Kansas station owner made the investment in blender pumps, it’s unlikely that many others will follow suit because unlike E-10, there is no E-15 mandate, which would require gas stations to invest. A bigger hurdle, though, is that E-15 is not suitable for older cars, and even for cars included in the EPA waiver, automakers are not recommending its use. Some are threatening to void warranties because of potential damage to engines and fuel systems. And, it’s more than just an idle threat as here’s an example of a late model gas cap.

So what’s in store for E-15? There are certainly some strong headwinds so it will take some time to see if the station in Kansas is the start of something new.

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