The conclusions don’t match the data, says an independent researcher commissioned by the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) to critique a federal report released last year by the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) concerning the impact higher percentages of ethanol in gasoline have on automobiles and small engines. Ethanol proponents have seized on the small, preliminary study that showed automobiles fared generally well under higher percentage gas-ethanol blends as a reason to raise the ethanol content of motor fuel from 10% to 15%. This week an ethanol trade group filed a formal request with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking to expedite a rule-making process that could have higher blend E15 gasoline at retail as soon as nine months from now.
According to environmental researcher Dr. Ron Sahu, the DOE ethanol study executive summary “does not accurately summarize the scope, results (or) uncertainties associated with the testing. Since most policy-makers will focus on the executive summary, this could result in misinformed policies based on misleading conclusions.”
The DOE report released last fall was covered extensively on powerETblog and in Power Equipment Trade magazine’s January-February issue, and documents the effects of E15 and E20 gasoline/ethanol blends on in-field automobiles and small engine products. The study revealed several concerns with small engine performance, including significant rise in engine exhaust temperatures, engine damage and operational problems in some cases, and most importantly, major safety issues including unintentional clutch engagement at idle speed.
“We need to acknowledge that current equipment—including boats, chain saws, lawnmowers, snowmobiles, motorcycles, generators and other small engine equipment—may be permanently damaged and poses a safety risk if E15 fuel is used. Current equipment is neither designed, built or warrantied for mid-level blends,” says Kris Kiser, Executive Vice President at OPEI.
The issue is much more pressing now that an ethanol industry trade group, Growth Energy, has filed a request with the EPA to expedite the formal fuel blending certification process and increase the allowable level of ethanol in common gasoline transportation fuel from 10% to 15% (E15). The group has asked EPA to waive its formal process, which can take several years of data-gathering, and the agency is required to respond within 270 days.
“The fact is the use of E15 and higher levels of ethanol is a complex issue, and it can’t be rushed by efforts that overlook the impacts on consumer safety and economic interests,” Kiser says. “OPEI fully supports congressional efforts to increase the use of cellulosic fuels. We can design products to run on higher levels of ethanol.”
But Kiser points out that existing small-engine equipment will likely experience performance irregularities and possible failure. Therefore, the public’s awareness, education and safety should be at the forefront of any discussion of introducing new fuel blends. He adds that the DOE study shows all 28 small engines tested had some significant problems with higher ethanol blends that the machines were not designed to operate on.
In response to the Growth Energy proposal, OPEI is submitting a letter to the EPA and DOE urging both agencies to utilize the existing formal waiver process. The process will provide the necessary studies and data to fully understand effects of introducing new fuel types into the marketplace. The studies also will provide information necessary to educate consumers about the use of mid-level ethanol fuels on existing and future products.
“OPEI is not anti-ethanol,” insists Kiser. “We support congressional efforts to get the U.S. off foreign sources of oil. But, we will not put people’s safety at risk in the process.”