E15 ethanol is expected to hit a pump near you in time for the summer driving season as the EPA wraps up the legal and administrative hurdles remaining before implementation.
"We are now in the process of completing a rule that will establish national labeling," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told the Senate Agriculture Committee at a hearing last Thursday. "We expect to issue a final rule in the next few months."
After an encouraging third-party report last fall played down the potential risks of increasing the legal ethanol blend to 15 percent, the EPA announced in October it would raise the limit from the current 10-percent cap. The EPA made the change official in January. There is a catch, however. E15 can only be used in vehicles built in 2001 or later as older vehicles are less resistant to the corrosive effects of alcohol in the fuel system.
The debate over E15 ethanol has been a contentious one. Proponents say larger ethanol blends will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, reduce emissions, lower gas prices and stimulate the economy. Critics argue that ethanol contains less energy than gasoline and is less efficient, that it can damage the fuel and emissions systems in older vehicles, that ethanol requires too many government subsidies to be viable, and that it stretches grain crops too thin as low-grade corn for ethanol production replaces high-grade edible corn in the fields, raising corn prices.
To straddle the debate, the EPA has declared that E15 is only safe in newer vehicles, specifically those built in 2001 or later. To prevent confusion at the pump, the EPA will require that E15 be dispense only out of special pumps that don't also pump regular gasoline. E15 pumps will be clearly labeled as such and will have warnings on them to stop people with older vehicles from filling up with E15 instead of gasoline. E15, naturally, will have to be stored in a separate tank from gasoline and E10.
Research by the EPA and by Ricardo shows that more than 150 million vehicles on the road in the U.S. today were built after 2001 and consume some 74 percent of the gasoline. Ricardo also found that 88 percent of vehicles on the road in the U.S. were built after 1993, so a majority of cars on the road today will be able to use E15. The EPA estimates that there will be more than 187 million vehicles capable of using E15 by 2014, representing 85 percent of gasoline usage.