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Editorial comment

For several months I have been following the US debate surrounding the proposed introduction of an increased level of ethanol into gasoline, 15% to be precise. It first came to my attention in March of this year when I read a press release from the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association (NPRA) urging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Administrator, Linda Jackson, to take note of a letter asking that the ‘Agency base any decision allowing the introduction of mid level ethanol blends into the nation’s fuel supply on a complete scientific record that includes up to date information and public comment on data testing.’ Since then it has been popping in and out of focus and continuously meeting opposition.


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Most gasoline in the US contains 10% ethanol (E10) and the increase to 15% ethanol (E15), which is scheduled for this autumn before extensive testing has been completed, has raised many topics of debate. In an ad campaign, which started on 22nd July, several points of contention have been highlighted, including the harm E15 could do to some engines, as it ‘has never been thoroughly tested to determine if it’s safe for engines in cars, boats and outdoor power equipment.’ The ad runs with the tag lines ‘Say No to untested E15’ and ‘Don’t let the ethanol industry leave you stranded.’ This campaign is being run by the NPRA and a broad range of industry groups and associations, who usually hold conflicting opinions, from the Environmental Working Group to the American Frozen Food Institute to the Motorcycle Industry Council and the National Association of Truck Stop Operators. The campaign group are also concerned ‘that more corn ethanol in our gasoline would lead to more dangerous pollutants coming out of our tailpipes and ending up in our lungs, cause more forests to be cut down for plants, put fragile lands under the tractor and use up scarce water resources.’1 Also, concerns have been voiced by the group surrounding the potential increases in food and feed prices for meat and poultry farmers, which could then eventually be passed onto the consumer. At the end of July, the above group received support from US Congress in the form of Congressmen Henry A. Waxman, Edward J. Markey, Joe Barton and Fred Upton, who urged the EPA to ‘ensure that increasing the permissible level of ethanol in gasoline is accomplished in a way that does not present any potential harm to air quality, consumers’ investments in cars, trucks and other engines and equipment, or small business owners’ investments in gas stations.’

At the time of writing, the American Petroleum Institute (API), also part of the campaigning consortium, had instigated the most recent activity surrounding E15. The API commissioned a report by Sierra Research entitled ‘Identification and Review of State/Federal Legislative and Regulatory Changes Required for the Introduction of New Transportation Fuels’, which was released at the beginning of September. The report has concluded that there is much still to be done before E15 is completely viable and Al Mannato, Fuels Issues Manager at API added to this conclusion by stating that ‘a flawed implementation of higher level ethanol blends would impact the success of biofuels moving forward.’ Another issue, which should definitely be considered as countries all over the world begin to seek out alternative and ultra clean fuels. If you would like to read a bit more about the E15 debate then please visit the processing sector at www.energyglobal.com.

Jumping forward to the November issue, the topic of clean(er) fuels will be looked at in a bit more detail in an article from Gordon Cope, Contributing Editor, discussing the problems being encountered by refiners as they clean sulfur from fuels.

1Nathanael Greene, Director of Renewable Energy Policy, Natural Resources Defence Council.