COLUMBIA — Gasoline with a higher percentage of ethanol will hit Midwest markets this summer, and Missouri has begun taking steps to make the blend available for certain vehicles.
Illinois, Iowa and Kansas, whose regulations on ethanol in gasoline are less stringent than Missouri's, will be first in the nation to offer E15, a blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline.
For ethanol blends E10, or gasohol (10 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline), and E85 (85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline):
- Ethanol can be produced in large volumes domestically
- E85 is cheaper in the Midwest compared to other regions of the country
- The use of ethanol can reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil
- It can also reduce greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere
- Ethanol contains less energy than unblended gasoline
- Vehicles operating on E10 usually experience a 3 to 4 percent drop in miles per gallon (MPG)
- Flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs), which are specially designed to operate on E85 or any blend of ethanol and gasoline usually experience a 25 to 30 percent drop in miles per gallon (MPG)
- Ethanol can be expensive to produce
Source: The most recent Fuel Economy Guide produced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy
E15 can be used in flexible-fuel vehicles, which can operate on any combination of ethanol and gasoline, and non-flexible-fuel vehicles built in 2001 and later.
Before E15 is allowed for use in such vehicles in Missouri, however, a state rule must first be changed.
Today, nearly every gallon of fuel already contains 10 percent ethanol; the new rule would raise the permitted ethanol content to 15 percent.
On April 2, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it would allow biofuels producers to register as suppliers of E15. Twenty ethanol producers, many based in Midwestern states, have registered with the agency.
But opponents of the EPA decision are concerned it poorly addressed two critical issues that could threaten consumers and gas station owners’ pockets by approving the E15 blend.
Ronald Leone, executive director of Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, cited “equipment compatibility” as the first key issue.
Currently, gas pumps, tanks and piping equipment at fueling stations throughout Missouri are compatible with E10, the 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline blend that all auto manufacturers approve for their gasoline vehicles.
Most of the existing equipment at retail stations can handle only up to 10 percent ethanol because they were manufactured before the introduction of E15.
“We’re not going to put product into our tanks, into our pipes, out of our pump if it voids the warranty on our equipment and if it has the potential to let our equipment fail, which means gas will be leaking into the environment,” Leone said.
The EPA's solution is to set a requirement that underground tanks and above-ground equipment be compatible with E15 blends before it can be sold.
That means most retailers will need to convert existing equipment to E15-safe facilities once the state gives its go-ahead. Simultaneously, equipment manufacturers will need to approve the higher ethanol blend in their warranties.
Leone said a gas station could dish out about $100,000 to install new storage and dispensing equipment to meet EPA standards.
Potential to “misfuel” at the pumps
Some auto manufacturers have also asserted that without adequate testing, E15 could damage the engines of non-flexible fuel vehicles.
The EPA announced recently that it has performed necessary testing and approved E15 for 2001 model year and newer non-flex-fuel cars and light-duty trucks.
Because the new blend may only be used in those vehicles, it's possible that consumers driving pre-2001 models may mistakenly fill their tanks with the wrong fuel.
The agency, in response, has proposed that gas stations be required to label pumps, but Leone worries that labels and warnings at the pumps may not be enough to prevent misfueling. He wants a federal or state law that unburdens gas stations of liability if a customer misfuels.
Until the EPA resolves these issues, Leone said he doesn't foresee his association's members selling the new blend at their stations.
Ross Mutrux, owner of Mutrux Automotive Sinclair at the intersection of West Rollins Road and Stadium Boulevard, said he won't sell E15 unless required by law.
"I think that we need a renewable fuel source, but E15, I don’t think is it," he said. "I just don’t agree that it’s the way we should go."
Missouri’s 10 percent ethanol standard
In 2007, Missouri passed a law, which took effect in 2008, that made E10 the state standard. The law, also known as the Missouri Renewable Fuel Standard, requires retail stations to sell ethanol-blended fuel only when ethanol costs less than or the same as straight gasoline. The requirement exempts premium fuel.
Ronald Hayes, director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture's Weights, Measures & Consumer Protection Division, which regulates the state's fuel supply, said it isn't necessary to change this law but only modify a rule within the Code of State Regulations.
"Specifically, the regulation limiting total alcohol content at a 10 volume percent would need to be updated and standardized with new federal regulations," said Becky Frankenbach, director of communications at Missouri Corn Growers Association, which has been closely involved with E15 legislation.
She said the department is moving forward with this process, which Hayes said could take up to six months.
"We are closely following the progression of E15 and gathering input from stakeholders ... and others related to what is needed to implement E15 in Missouri," he said. "The department plans to address E15 in the very near future with a rule modification based on stakeholder input."
Until then, E15 won't be available for non-flex-fuel vehicles in Missouri, but E10 will remain an option.