Oil group: High-ethanol fuel harms cars

A high-ethanol fuel blend approved for use in some late model autos could damage millions of vehicles, according to research released Tuesday by a major oil industry group.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) said its testing showed E15 — gasoline with 15 percent ethanol, rather than the standard 10–percent blend — could cause millions of car engines to stop working.

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The tests were conducted by the Coordinating Research Council (CRC), a group created and supported by the oil and auto industries. They come two years after the Environmental Protection Agency issued a ruling permitting the sale of E15 for cars made after 2001.

A substantial number of some 29 million vehicles that fit that category would be damaged by higher concentrations of ethanol, which is more corrosive than traditional fuel and can cause certain engine parts to expand, according to the CRC’s test results.

The testing, completed this month, showed an elevated incidence of fuel pump failures, part swelling and impairment of fuel measurement systems.

“Failure of these components could result in breakdowns that leave consumers stranded on busy roads and highways,” said Bob Greco, API’s director of downstream and industry operations.

The research prompted immediate blowback from representatives of the biofuels industry, who called the research biased and misleading.

“This is a classic example of ‘he, who pays the piper, calls the tune,’ ” Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis said in a statement issued shortly after the CRC research was released.

“Oil companies are desperate to prevent the use of higher blends of renewable fuels,” Buis said. “They have erected every regulatory and legal roadblock imaginable to prevent our nation from reducing our dependence on oil. For Big Oil, this is about market share.” 

Bob Reynolds, President, Downstream Alternatives for Renewable Fuels Association said the CRC selected chose to test components that they suspected would be the most sensitive to ethanol. He also noted that the group declined to say exactly what percentage of cars in the federal fleet, according to the testing, would be damaged by E15.

Currently E15 is not widely available, but the biofuels industry is seeking to meet rising blending targets established by the renewable fuel standard. The blending mandate requires refiners to blend 36 billion gallons of biofuels into traditional transportation fuels by 2022.

API is pressing Congress to repeal that standard. The oil-and-gas industry is also weighing its next move in a legal battle over EPA’s decision allowing E15 into the marketplace. Earlier this month the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld the decision.

Greco said the industry is seriously considering asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up consideration of the case. 

This story was updated at 5:14 p.m.