EPA Addresses Ethanol Blend Waiver Request in RFS2 Regulation

May 11, 2009 07:00 PM
 

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EPA outlines host of issues for waiver


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


Tucked in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed rule for the Renewable Fuels Standard-2 (RFS2) is a section which addresses the potential waiver to allow up to 15% ethanol to be blended in with the nation's fuel supply.

In the RFS2 proposal, EPA said that gasoline containing 10% ethanol should remain available to serve older vehicles, even if the agency grants a waiver to allow higher levels of ethanol in gasoline. EPA issued the comments following a petition it received to raise the the amount of ethanol allowed in gasoline for non-flex-fuel vehicles.

Currently, 10% is the highest level of ethanol allowed in gasoline under the Clean Air Act. Growth Energy and 45 ethanol producers petitioned EPA March 6 for a waiver to increase the amount of ethanol allowed up to 15%. EPA has 270 days, to Dec. 1, to grant or deny the waiver.

"Experience in past fuel programs has shown that many consumers will not be comfortable refueling on higher ethanol blends and will blame any problems that may occur on the new fuel (regardless of the actual cause of the vehicle problems) causing a backlash against the new fuel requirements," EPA said. "Therefore, we believe it is critical to continue to allow consumers the choice between mid-level ethanol blends and conventional gasoline (assumed to be E10 in the future)," the agency said.

EPA added that "it may be possible that these criteria for a mid-level blend waiver may be met for a subset of gasoline vehicles or engines but not for all gasoline vehicles or engines." Under the proposal, "mid-level ethanol blends" could meet criteria for a waiver for some vehicles and engines, but not for others.

According to EPA, engines without newer technology to adjust for the higher oxygen levels in ethanol may experience problems using ethanol, while newer vehicles, especially those meeting EPA's Tier 2 emissions standards, which started taking effect in 2004, "may be able to adjust for such changes as a result of more advanced emissions and fuel control equipment."

The blend wall issue. EPA also noted the potential waiver decision to allow mid-level ethanol blends may also help get past the approaching "blend wall" on ethanol. "For our optimistic mid-level ethanol blends scenario, we assumed that E15 or E20 could be available at all retail stations nationwide by the time the nation hits the E10 blend wall, or around 2013," EPA stated. "This assumes a number of actions are taken to bring mid-level blends to market."

Further, EPA noted, "Mid-level ethanol blends alone (even if made available nationwide) are not capable of fulfilling the RFS2 requirements in later years. We would essentially hit another blend wall 1-6 years later depending on the intermediate blend, how quickly it could be brought to market, and how widely mid-level ethanol blends were distributed at retail stations nationwide."

EPA assumed that " E10 would be marketed as premium-grade gasoline, the mid-level ethanol blend (E15 or E20) would serve as regular, and like today, midgrade would be blended from the two fuels." The agency noted that this scenario would mean that if mid-level ethanol blends were distributed at all retail stations nationwide, "they could help increase ethanol usage to over 19 billion gallons (with E15) and 25 billion gallons (with E20)."


Comments: EPA raises some interesting points in the lengthy RFS2 proposed rule, including on this pending waiver request to allow up to 15% ethanol in the nation's gasoline supply. Their discussion outlines several issues that must be addressed for the waiver to be implemented if it is approved..

Further, it's notable that the comment period on the waiver request runs through May 21, and the RFS2 comment period ends 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register. So far, that hasn't been published. But it effectively means there is an extended comment period on the issue of the waiver via the RFS2 proposed rule. And clearly an issue this significant will need a lot of public comment and analysis before anything happens.


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


 

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