Ethanol over 15% good for renewable energy use, bad for cars
Gasoline containing more than 15 percent ethanol will increase renewable energy use, but may hurt consumer cars and vehicles.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 - 10:49
CONTROVERSIAL RENEWABLES: Mid-level ethanol will help lessen our dependence on oil but it might also hurt consumer vehicles. (Photo: Michael Coté/Flickr)
In 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), which requires an increase in the use of renewable fuels in place of gasoline — mandating 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022. To reach this goal, ethanol use is continuously increasing.
Currently, there is an amendment to EISA before Congress, which would allow and even encourage the sale of E15, a fuel consisting of about 85 percent gasoline and 15 percent ethanol, as opposed to the ethanol level in fuel that is presently in use, which is 10 percent ethanol or less. While the introduction of E15 would contribute to the goal of increased renewable energy use, stronger ethanol has a downside.
Groups testing E15 realized that it can damage cars and possibly the machinery of small business owners who use gasoline. The Committee on Energy and Commerce Congressional letter to Lisa Jackson of the EPA cites such studies: "The Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers ... stated that two studies raise concerns about durability impacts and that one study showed catalyst deterioration after 50,000 miles." A variety of groups and organizations agree that E15 will be bad for consumers and recently submitted a letter to congress opposing the use of E15.
Even ethanol levels slightly over 10 percent can be detrimental to consumer safety and the vehicles they drive. However, because E15 is suitable for select cars, the EPA is considering a partial waiver to allow market sale of E15, even though it has the potential to do harm. Congress's decision regarding the new amendment will be largely based on the decision of the EPA.
The introduction of renewable fuels is an issue regulated by Congress and the EPA. While the EPA considers its position on the subject, the Department of Energy continues tests on E15. Organizations can get involved by supporting the efforts of groups opposing the introduction of E15, specifically by signing on to a letter of opposition.
E15 is not ready for market sale, but if it is authorized, there also must be efforts from a variety of different parties to ensure transparency in the market and consumer education about the product. Misfueling is already a problem; in the 1980s, an EPA study showed that 13.5 percent of vehicles were misfueled with leaded fuel even though the cars required unleaded fuel. This is a serious concern if E15 is sold on the market.
Many organizations have joined a letter to Congress opposing the introduction of E15, which is widely disputed and likely to cause damage to consumer vehicles, hoping to sway Congress regardless of the EPA's decision. Groups on this letter are extremely varied — from conservative companies and organizations like the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America, National Boating Federation and Motorcycle Industry Council, to environmental groups like Sierra Club, Center for Coastal Conservation, Clean Air Force and Environmental Working Group.
Unfortunately, for a topic pertaining so heavily to consumers, consumer advocacy groups are severely lacking, but one consumer group, the National Consumers League, is thinking about signing on. The issue of mid-level ethanol sales is a concern because this new energy source may not be reliable or safe for many consumers, families, family businesses and family possessions, including cars. Inappropriate introduction of mid-level ethanol to the market may also create a strong backlash against renewable energy and slow progress in the future. While renewable energy is extremely important to our future, it must be introduced with caution and care to ensure long-term success.
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