For more than a decade, Steve Vander Griend has studied, researched and modeled data on gasoline fuel and ethanol and how it works — from the power it produces, to the emissions it creates, to the residue left behind.
He is perhaps the nation’s leading critic of the Motor Vehicle Emissions Simulator used by EPA to model emissions from higher blends of ethanol in transportation fuels. EPA also mandates that states use that model to meet emissions tests.
As technical director for Urban Air Initiative, Vander Griend has labored to show how the MOVES model is flawed and why it is unfair to ethanol. The organization has lobbied to get out the word that MOVES needs to be changed, not just for the good of the ethanol industry, but for the health of Americans and the development of higher performance automobile engines that burn less fuel and emit fewer dangerous toxins.
In June, Vander Griend gained national recognition for this work when BBI International and Ethanol Producer Magazine honored him with the High Octane Award, presented annually to a person whose passion and efforts have significantly benefited the ethanol industry.
However, he says there is a long way to go before he gains traction on getting EPA to change the MOVES model.
“Basically, there are career people there who bought into the science offered by the American Petroleum Institute, and changing their mind is very difficult,” Vander Griend says. “But what they have been told and what they believe is not only limiting the ability of the ethanol industry to grow but actually harming the quality of the air and risking the health of Americans.”
He says the resistance to change the testing protocol is not a political one but a systemic one, stemming from career folks who have been there for decades.
A problem of aromatics
At the heart of the health risk of transportation fuel are compounds known as aromatics — benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, commonly called BTEX. They are added to gasoline to increase the octane rating.
These compounds are also the most expensive to produce from crude oil. Currently, a gallon of gasoline is about 25% aromatics.
The alternative octane booster is ethanol, which has an octane rating of 113. The octane rating of regular gasoline is 87. Mid-grade is 89 and premium is 93. Given that the purpose of adding aromatics is to add octane, it would seem logical that adding ethanol would enable blenders to reduce aromatics.
In the real world, that’s what they do because it saves them money. Any number of tests conducted on fuel blends from consumer pumps have proved that is what they do. In fact, the creation of E10 and its use in almost all gasoline has already displaced 8 billion gallons of aromatics annually.
But that is not what the testing model used to measure emissions does. The MOVES model calls for the opposite — increasing aromatic levels to match increases in ethanol. The result is higher emissions. But Vander Griend says that is the result of the increased aromatics, not the increased ethanol.
When you simply add more ethanol to the blend, testing shows that emissions of volatile organic compounds are reduced, nitrous oxide is reduced, particulate matter is reduced and toxic fumes are reduced.
Urban Air Initiative sued EPA in an effort to fix the MOVES model. The court did not take up the case, but Urban Air did gain a spot on a task force to review the model for EPA and continues to work on that task.
Higher blends question
Vander Griend and UAI also challenge EPA’s rule prohibiting use of higher blends such as E20 and E30 in non-flex fuel vehicles.
He says that all the research done to approve the use of E15 also included E20 data and there were no issues.
North Carolina State University did a study showing that non-FFVs can take advantage of the higher octane while reducing emissions with no adverse effects. The study showed that with splash blended E27, particulate matter and greenhouse gas emissions were reduced.
He also pointed out the fact that car manufacturers do very little to modify the engines of the cars that are sold to Brazil and they run just fine on mid-level blends of ethanol in that country.
The Urban Air Initiative is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving air quality and protecting public health by reducing vehicle emissions. Its focus is on increasing the use of clean burning ethanol in the gasoline supply to replace harmful aromatic compounds in gasoline. UAI is helping achieve that through scientific studies and real-world data to promote new fuels, engine design and public awareness.