December 1, 2009

EPA puts off higher ethanol blend decision until mid-2010

The Environmental Protection Agency has sent a letter (.pdf) to Growth Energy - the group the initially asked EPA to allow the use of ethanol blends of up to 15 percent - saying that it will be mid-2010 before it issues a final decision on the request.

While EPA is waiting for additional testing data, it did note that results of two tests indicate engines in newer cars (2001 and newer) likely can handle ethanol blends higher than the current 10-percent limit (e10). However, the agency said it continues to evaluate the question of "component durability" when e15 is used over thousands of miles - and that an ongoing Department of Energy study will provide "critical data" on this issue.

This DOE study is expected to be wrapped up by August 2010, although most vehicles in the study will be wrapped up by May, putting data in EPA's hands in June.

"Should the test results remain supportive and provide the necessary basis, we would be in a position to approve e15 for 2001 and newer vehicles in the mid-year timeframe," EPA said.

EPA also said it has started the process to craft the labeling requirements that will be necessary if the blending limit is raised. It is forming a working group to tackle this matter.

Gen. Wesley Clark, co-chairman of Growth Energy, said the announcement is "a strong signal" that EPA allow a move to e15.

“The importance of increasing the blend is now universally understood. Moving to e15 provides much-needed market opportunity for the domestic ethanol industry by adding seven billion new gallons of market potential," said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy.

He added that EPA should be commended for its intent to begin the labeling and public education process sooner rather than later.

The Renewable Fuels Association, however, was more critical.

Bob Dinneen, its CEO, said the delay "threatens to paralyze the continued evolution of America’s ethanol industry" and "chill investment in advanced biofuel technologies at a critical time in their development and commercialization."

He also suggested that EPA should approve intermediate ethanol blends, such as e12, and expressed concerns that EPA is focused on vehicles model year 2001 and newer. "The data to date has shown no ill-effects of increased ethanol use in any vehicle, regardless of model year," he said.

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