Higher Ethanol Content Bad For Older Engines, Study Says
This original draft of an EPA warning label only approved E15 fuel for model year 2007 and later vehicles. A rule change in January approved the fuel for models as old as 2001, which could damage older engines, according to a new study.
A government-approved fuel blend with higher ethanol content can damage older engines, a new study says, but ethanol backers are crying foul.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the widespread use of E15, a blend of 85 percent gasoline and 15 percent ethanol, in cars and light trucks from model years 2001 and later in January 2011. E10, a 90/10 blend of gasoline and ethanol, is common at U.S. service stations.
Many vehicles are designed to run on E10, but automakers are increasingly concerned that the greater ethanol content in E15 is over the line.
A new study, released May 15 by the Coordinating Research Council (CRC), an organization supported by the American Petroleum Institute and various auto manufacturers, found that two out of eight engine types tested showed problems with valves and valve seats after running on E15. The valve leaks identified could cause engine misfires and costly repairs.
More than five million cars and light trucks currently on the road share the characteristics of the engines that failed in the study.
''The EPA made [approval of E15] retroactive to 2001, and that is the problem,'' said Mike Stanton, president of Global Automakers. ''The EPA should have waited until all the studies on the potential impacts of E15 on the current fleet were completed.''
The alcohol content in ethanol can damage mechanical parts by causing corrosion and attracting moisture. Trade groups representing small-engine manufacturers and power-equipment makers have said that alcohol-blend fuels, even E10, are bad for the engines in boats, chain saws, lawn mowers, generators and similar products.
Growth Energy – an ethanol advocacy group that promoted E15 approval to the EPA – criticized the CRC study, pointing to EPA research on E15 that showed no negative effects, as well as the blend’s widespread use in NASCAR. A Department of Energy release also criticized the methodology of the study, which was performed over two years by engineering and testing firm FEV.
Industry groups aligned with the CRC are taking the results of the study seriously, however, and are not backing down despite the protests of the ethanol lobby.
''Cars were not built for E15. It’s that simple – and now we have material evidence that validates our concerns,'' said Mitch Bainwol, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
The EPA and the Federal Trade Commission ruled last June that a warning label is required for all E15 fueling stations, but trade groups are not convinced that drivers will be sufficiently protected by the warning. Automakers are advising consumers to follow the fuel recommendation in their vehicle’s owner’s manuals to avoid any issues.
View the full CRC report here.