By Jacqui Fatka and Josh Flint
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accepted tests on E15 (15% ethanol fuel blends) submitted by the Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy for satisfying the emissions and health effects data requirements for its registration.
As a result, EPA says E15 may be lawfully sold by a fuel or fuel additive manufacturer after the manufacturer has registered E15 and met the conditions of the partial waivers.
Health effects testing is a required step in the approval of any new fuel or fuel additive.
With EPA's acceptance of the results of the testing submitted by the ethanol groups, suppliers of ethanol and E15 are now able to register with EPA to offer the fuel. This is not the green light for E15 sales yet, but the health effects testing is a significant milestone to have passed.
EPA concluded, "Our evaluation therefore concludes that RFA/Growth Energy has submitted data and analysis that would satisfy the Tier 1 and Tier 2 testing requirements for registration."
With current approvals in place, E15 can be used in any car 2001 or newer. This represents approximately 65% of the automobiles on the road. More importantly, Kristy Moore, RFA's vice president technical services, says these cars represent 82% of actual miles travelled.
Still, challenges abound. Moore says there is a lot of registration work that still needs to be done. A protocol for mitigating instances of "misfueling" needs to be formulated. Guidelines for blending feedstocks must be revisited. Moore says RFA is dedicated to being there every step of the way in addressing these issues with retailers.
On the retail end, Grady Chronister and Scott Zaremba agree the most pressing issue is consumer education. Zaremba owns nine Zarco 66 fueling stations across Kansas. Chronister owns 12 Qik-n-EZ fueling stations across central Illinois.
For most consumers an automobile is the second largest purchase they will make in their lifetime, Zaremba points out. "I think the consumer is open to any (fuel) that is o.k. (for their car)," Chronister adds. "They can't have any perception that this product could have a negative impact."
Notifying consumers that ethanol is green, affordable and one more step toward energy independence is all well and good, the retailers agree. However, step one must be that it is safe for their automobiles. Moore notes RFA has long identified this as a primary hurdle. She says many "shade-tree" mechanics still blame ethanol for any sort of automobile malfunction.
Once everything is in place, Chronister says he'll likely remove a mid- or premium-grade fuel and replace it with E15 at his fuel stations. He expects the boost in octane from blending 5% more ethanol will be a nice selling point.
Since E15 is drop-in replacement for over 60% of the U.S. fleet, Chronister will offer it at every pump. It doesn't make sense to put it alongside his E85 products, he says. "I can't have 65% of my customers waiting at one pump," he adds. "When you buy fuel, you don't make an appointment. It's at your convenience, not ours."
With the price benefits of ethanol in place, Chronister says he'd like to sell E15 at a 5-to10-cent reduction compared to E10. Hopefully the savings and octane boost will make it an easy sell.