Bloomberg News

Oil Refiners Say Higher Ethanol Blends May Damage Engines

January 29, 2013

Ethanol-blended gasoline approved for use in most U.S. vehicles may damage car engines by harming fuel pumps, according to a study funded by oil refiners and automakers.

The industry groups have opposed the standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency that allows so-called E15 blended fuels, which contain 15 percent ethanol. While the EPA cleared the blend for most vehicles sold since 2001, the study released today by the Coordinating Research Council shows it may cause fuel-pump failures, component swelling and problems that could trigger on-board diagnostic system breakdowns.

“Given the types of vehicles tested, it’s safe to say that millions could be affected,” Bob Greco, the American Petroleum Institute’s downstream group director, told reporters. “The more we study, unfortunately, the more difficult issues we uncover.”

Ethanol, fermented from grain such as corn in a process similar to making moonshine, must be blended into gasoline under the government’s Renewable Fuel Standard as a way to cut the amounts of crude oil used to make motor fuel. It’s typically sold at filling stations in a formula known as E10, with 10 percent ethanol mixed with 90 percent gasoline.

‘Prominent’ Label

Stations aren’t required to sell the fuel. The EPA and the Federal Trade Commission require E15 sellers to post a “prominent orange and black label” to let consumers know a pump contains the higher concentration of ethanol.

Supporters of its use say refiners are funding studies such as the one released today by the Coordinating Research Council in their bid to overturn the Renewable Fuel Standard, either in court challenges or through legislation.

“This is more of the same old junk science, recycled by oil companies to continue to attack biofuels, which are cutting into their market segment and bottom line,” Michael Frohlich, a spokesman for the ethanol-industry group Growth Energy, said in an e-mail. “I am surprised that the CRC has not attempted to provide ‘scientific’ data that links E15 to flat tires.”

Growth Energy, with offices in Washington and Omaha, Nebraska, is led by former U.S. Army General Wesley Clark and Jeff Broin, the chairman and founder of Poet LLC, the country’s second-biggest ethanol maker, behind Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. (ADM:US)

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Drajem in Washington at mdrajem@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net


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