EPA proposes rule to expand ethanol market growth

Proposed Renewable Enhancement & Growth Support rule introduced with goal of increasing production and use of renewable fuels.

The Environmental Protection Agency released a proposed Ethanol Flex Fuel and Renewable Enhancement & Growth Support rule. This proposal intends to provide regulatory clarification for ethanol fuel blends from 16% to 50%, allowing blends such as E30 and E25 to be sold through blender pumps to flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs). 

The proposal would also limit the amount of sulfur in ethanol flex-fuel blending stocks, such as natural gasoline used to make ethanol blends, to 10 parts per million. Furthermore, it makes a number of changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard to allow bio-intermediates to facilitate the production of renewable fuel.

FFVs are designed to operate on any gasoline/ethanol mixture of up to 83% ethanol. FFVs currently represent about 8% of the U.S. passenger vehicle fleet. EPA said it is revising its gasoline regulations to make it clear that E16-E83 fuel blends are not gasoline and, hence, not fully subject to gasoline quality standards. However, EPA said it will also be putting in place standards that ensure the quality and environmental performance of this fuel. “EPA believes this will clear the way for the expanded production and use of high-ethanol fuel blends at a lower cost and, thereby, the opportunity for increasing demand.”

Bob Dinneen, president and chief executive officer of the Renewable Fuels Assn., said the group has been working with EPA on these draft regulations for some time.

“We are still reviewing the proposal and will be submitting detailed comments to EPA. Our goal is to ensure the final regulations do not unreasonably impair the ability of blenders and retailers to offer ethanol flex fuels like E85 to consumers. Ethanol flex fuels are the lowest-cost, lowest-carbon and highest-octane liquid fuels on the market, and it is imperative that these EPA regulations help — not hinder — broader commercial introduction of these fuels.”

In response to the proposed rule, Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, said, “While we are reviewing the details of the rule, we are concerned about the impact of this proposal on the hundreds of retailers who are successfully selling E15 in the marketplace today. If this proposed rule is finalized, this regulation would leave E15 as the only ethanol-blended fuel that does not have Reid vapor pressure (RVP) relief. RVP is the measure of a fuel’s volatility, and EPA regulates vapor pressure/RVP to prevent increased ozone or smog from vehicle emissions.”

Skor added that it is imperative that E15 be given the same volatility treatment as regular E10 gasoline. The current RVP waiver for E10 was granted in 1990, and she said it is time fuel regulations were updated to "match the market realities of the 21st century. E15 burns cleaner, has reduced tailpipe emissions and particulate matter and reduces smog and other harmful emissions. Growth Energy continues to take the lead on a legislative fix to the RVP issue and will provide significant comments to EPA to ensure that consumers continue to have access to higher blends of ethanol fuels.”

Once the proposal is published in the Federal Register, parties will have 60 days to comment.

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