Government Accountability Office’s E15 Report
Published on Friday, July 29, 2011 in General Announcements, In The News, News & Updates, Snowmobile Tech
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E15, what is it? E15, sometimes called gasohol, is a fuel mixture of 15% anhydrous ethanol and 85% gasoline.

When reviewing this report, please note the US EPA has already recommended that E-15 fuel NOT be used in snowmobiles. Also note that the Department Of Energy (DOE) has contracted a thorough testing exercise of E-15 fuel in snowmobiles using the expertise of Michigan Technological University and the Keweenaw Research Center in Houghton, MI. The Report from the DOE will be available in late 2011 or early 2012.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) finding at the end of the Report Synopsis is most interesting. We have consistently told the EPA, the DOE and anybody that will listen that consumers will misfuel their vehicles if intermediate ethanol (E-15 blends) are available and are less expensive than other fuels. The E-15 fuel will be less expensive because of the related subsidies.

Below you will find a summary of details found in a recently conducted GAo report on E-15 fuel. The complete 57 page report is available from the GAO office.

Government Accountability Office’s E15 Report
(GAO report, “Challenges to the Transportation, Sale, and Use of Intermediate Ethanol Blends”, June 2011)

EPA has granted a “partial approval” for E15 (gasoline that contains 15 percent ethanol) for vehicle models 2001 and newer. This controversial rule was examined in a recent GAO report, which highlighted the major challenges to the retail sale of E15, focusing on compatibility, cost, and liability.

E15 Compatibility
Multiple federal studies have revealed potential problems using E15 with existing dispensing equipment: According to a recent Department of Energy (DOE) report and research, “certain elastomers, rubbers, and other materials used in UST [underground storage tank] systems may degrade or swell excessively when exposed to intermediate ethanol blends, becoming ineffective as gaskets or seals” (p.26).

Federal research on E15 compatibility is also incomplete as: “[S]everal officials within EPA’s Office of Underground Storage Tanks told [GAO] that DOE’s research efforts … have focused only on testing materials (e.g., elastomers and rubbers) and not actual components and equipment (e.g., valves and tanks) found in UST systems” (p.26). Although EPA also plans to study E15 compatibility, “this research will be based on interviews with experts and not on actual testing of materials, components, or equipment. … EPA officials stated that the ability to determine the compatibility of legacy equipment with intermediate blends is limited” (p.26-27). Currently, EPA has not developed a plan to undertake this research (p.27).

E15’s Cost
In order to sell E15, most fuel retailers will need to replace at least one dispenser system in order to comply with current OSHA regulations, which will come at significant cost (p.27). In recent years, the average retail profit margin at convenience stores and fuel outlets range on average from $20,000 to $40,000. “According to estimates from EPA and several industry associations, installing a new dispenser system compatible with intermediate ethanol blends will cost over $20,000.” Given that most fuel retailers have four dispensers, it would cost over $80,000 to upgrade an entire retail facility (p.28). Furthermore, “the total cost of installing a new single-tank UST system compatible with intermediate ethanol blends is more than $100,000” (p.28).

E15 Liability
Even if state or local officials approved the use of E15 with existing dispensers, retailers would still be effectively ignoring OSHA’s regulations, exposing themselves to lawsuits for negligence and invalidation of business agreements that reference OSHA requirements (p.29).

Consumer misfueling can also raise liability issues: “Because EPA has only allowed E15 for use in model year 2001 and newer automobiles, representatives from several industry associations stated that consumers may not be aware of the distinction between approved and nonapproved engines, or they may be confused about which fuel to use” (p.30). Many car manufacturers’ warranties do not cover the use of E15, “even for model year vehicles approved by EPA for E15.” This means that consumers could be held responsible for any repairs resulting from the use of E15 (p.30).

EPA requirements will not mitigate the potential for misfueling: Some consumers may not understand the label, or “the label might get lost among the other labels commonly found on dispensers” (p.30). Additionally, “… some consumers will intentionally misfuel their automobiles if intermediate ethanol blends are cheaper.”

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