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The value of E15 fuel reliability once again maligned

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A report was released today questioning the reliability of E15, or gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol and implying some engines suffer damage from using the fuel.

Nevertheless, proponents of ethanol as well as the federal government countered the results stating the study was fundamentally flawed, due to the fact engines with established durability issues were used and no control group was used to confirm the testing method itself was not at fault. Using their trial, cars burning 10 percent ethanol to gasoline might have failed as well. This is the gas the great majority of us put in our tanks on a weekly basis.

This however is just the latest salvo in the ongoing and noisy discussion of the merits of the E15 blend. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 raised CAFE standards to 35-mpg fleetwide by 2020 for automakers as well as mandating the use of 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022. Of those, 21 billion gallons must be produced from a non-cornstarch source, that is, sugar or cellulosic materials.

In February, legislation was sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) intended to delay E15’s entry into the marketplace by mandating further testing by the EPA, requiring them to contract the National Academy of Sciences to prove the reliability of the biofuel.

At the end of March, the Domestic Fuels Act of 2012 was introduced into the House and Senate to make it easier to bring E15 to market given the current fueling infrastructure.

“This is really about giving customers more choice and better prices at the pump by empowering retailers to market multiple fuels using the same equipment,” stated Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), one of the bills cosponsors.

Also contained in the bill are liability protections for retailers, engine manufacturers and fuel producers involving problems caused by using E15, or other fuels okayed for use by the EPA.The other cosponsors were Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.).

The new study was funded by the oil industry and automakers, and performed by the nonprofit Coordinating Research Council who tested eight different engine models, 28 powerplants total, culled from vehicles from 2001 through 2009 models. The engines were operated 500 hours under stress equaling 100,000 miles on ethanol-free gasoline, the E15 blend containing and a 20 percent ethanol variant.

Their results showed two of the eight engine types showed damage from running on E15, in the form of leaking cylinders. Analysis of these engines by the manufacturers revealed damage to intake valve seats, possibly causing the leakage. Another of the engines burning E15 allegedly failed an emissions test.

American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard said that the study results reveal millions of cars are at risk of damage from E15.


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