The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently approved a waiver allowing higher concentrations of ethanol into gasoline for vehicles manufactured after 2007. Since 1979, the maximum blend allowance has been 10 percent ethanol. However, the new allowances allow blends of up to 15 percent ethanol, known as E15, at the pump. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson made the decision following a review of the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) extensive testing of E15 on engine durability and emissions.

“Thorough testing has now shown that E15 does not harm emissions control equipment in newer cars and light trucks,” said Jackson. “Wherever sound science and the law support steps to allow more home-grown fuels in America’s vehicles, this administration takes those steps.”

Vehicles manufactured from 2001 to 2006 are currently undergoing additional DOE testing to determine if E15 would be suitable or not. After receiving the results of that testing, the EPA is expected to decide around the beginning of the year whether to waive the 10 percent limitation for model year 2001 to 2006 vehicles. However, no waiver is likely to be granted this year for E15 in model year 2000 and older cars or light trucks. Additionally, the waiver does not apply to motorcycles, heavy-duty vehicles or non-road engines such as boats, because sufficient testing data has not been collected and analyzed yet.

Two factors influenced the EPA’s decision to waive the limitation. The first was a Congressional mandate included in The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) that requires the overall volume of renewable fuels in the marketplace to increase in volume to 36 billion gallons per year by 2022. According to a recently released United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) roadmap for reaching the biofuel portion of these renewable energy goals, ethanol is planned to account for nearly half of the 36 billion gallons (see USDA Creates Roadmap to Meet Biofuel Goals and Standards by 2022). While E15 represents an increase of only 5 percent more ethanol than E10, moving from E10 to E15 represents a 50 percent increase in the volume of renewable fuels being used in gasoline.

The other factor influencing the EPA’s decision was an E15 petition submitted to the EPA by Growth Energy and 54 ethanol manufactures in March 2009. The petition was submitted under a Clean Air Act provision that allows EPA to waive the act’s prohibition against altered fuel sales if tests demonstrate the new fuel will not damage engine parts that ensure compliance with the act’s emissions limits.

In the coming months, the EPA is expected to decide on E15 pump labeling requirements, including a requirement that the fuel industry specify the ethanol content of gasoline sold to retailers. In addition, inspections of retail stations will be conducted to ensure gas pumps are being properly labeled. These measures will be part of the EPA’s measures to help consumers easily identify the correct fuel for their vehicles and equipment.


The EPA has proposed a labeling system to inform customers about proper E15 usage. Credit: EPA

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