A new study out this week and prepared by the Coordinating Research Council has ethanol groups concerned that result reporting by the American Petroleum Institute will scare consumers.
The study, which builds on an earlier study on valves and vale seat engine parts in vehicles using E20, explores potential impacts of E15.
Study parameters included tests of fuel pumps using E15 – some of which had no deviations and some which had pump failures. The CRC notes that the study, when included with older studies, found that some fuel systems survive testing in mid-blend ethanol fuels, while others experience complete failures.
The testing also identified fuel system component swelling and impairment of fuel measurement systems in some of the vehicles tested. CRC says the subset of parts used in the study represent approximately 29 million 2001-2007 model year vehicles.
Not the first study
Previous studies prepared by the CRC, a non-profit that studies performance characteristics of transportation fluids on vehicle hardware, have drawn criticism.
In May, Patrick Davis of the U.S. Department of Energy said the CRC's previous ethanol study "failed to establish a proper control group" and stood by previous DOE studies testing ethanol.
Davis said the DOE testing mirrored everyday driving and included an inspection of critical engine components. The resulting Energy Department data showed no statistically significant loss of vehicle performance – emissions, fuel economy, and maintenance issues – attributable to the use of E15 fuel compared to straight gasoline.
API says study proves E15 unreliable
Despite the concern about CRC's previous studies, American Petroleum Institute Group Director of Downstream and Industry Operations Bob Greco said the newest study shows component failure caused by E15 could "result in breakdowns that leave consumers stranded on busy roads and highways."
"It is difficult to precisely calculate how many vehicles E15 could harm," Greco added. "That depends on how widely it is used and other factors. But, given the kinds of vehicles tested, it is safe to say that millions could be impacted."
Greco said though EPA has approved E15 in model year 2001 and later vehicles, their action was "irresponsible." He pointed to the Renewable Fuels Standard as a possible cause for approval.
"Most gasoline sold today is an E10 blend, but rising volume requirements under the law can't be met much longer without going to higher blends," Greco said. "The answer is to repeal the RFS before it puts millions of vehicles and many motorists at risk."
Ethanol groups disagree
American Coalition for Ethanol's Ron Lamberty disputed the study and Greco's comments, saying the discussion is really about market share.
"Ethanol is gaining a larger share of a shrinking U.S. gasoline market, and Big Oil will stop at nothing to protect their huge profits," Lamberty said in a statement Tuesday. "The idea of farmers and ethanol producers taking more market share via E15 is what truly haunts the oil industry. Big Oil's refusal to comply with the RFS isn't proof the RFS doesn't work – it's proof they don't want it to work, because they don't want to compete for consumers' fuel dollars."
Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, reiterated previous DOE E15 testing.
"While CRC cites a lack of testing, the reality is that E15 is the most tested fuel to date, with more than six million miles of testing by the Department of Energy and over three million miles run on the demanding race tracks of NASCAR without any engine problems or damage."