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EPA grows E15

DANIEL LOOKER 01/21/2011 @ 1:33pm Business Editor

The EPA widened a crack in the so-called blend wall Friday, announcing that it has approved the use of gasoline blends of 15% ethanol for use in light passenger vehicles made for the 2001 model year or later.  The decision is based on testing by the Department of Energy that showed no ill effects on newer engines.

“Recently completed testing and data analysis show that E15 does not harm emissions control equipment in newer cars and light trucks," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "Wherever sound science and the law support steps to allow more home-grown fuels in America’s vehicles, this administration takes those steps." ?

The announcement was welcomed by commodity and farm groups and lobbyists for the ethanol industry.

The EPA announcement opens up the market for E15 for about 55% to 60% of cars and pickup trucks currently on the road, said leaders of Growth Energy, the ethanol trade group that asked EPA in 2009 for a waiver to the Clean Air Act to allow a blend above the current 10% limit for all cars.

“It’s a huge step forward for our national security,” said retired General Wesley Clark, co-chair of Growth Energy. The decision will allow the use of another 7 billion gallons a year of ethanol, he said. The EPA is mandating the use of almost 14 billion gallons of ethanol this year through the renewable fuel standard.

Tom Buis, Growth Energy CEO, said his group would like to see E15 allowed in all cars but acknowledged that he’s not aware of testing by DOE on older vehicles.

“We are not going to give up until we completely tear down that blend wall,” Buis said.

Buis wasn’t able to say exactly when E15 will be widely available to motorists, but he said he thought it would be sooner than the three-to-five year timeline of some analysts.

EPA still has to issue final rules on how pumps for E15 should be labeled to warn owners of older vehicles against using it. The new fuel blend will also have to be registered with EPA, he said, and some state legislatures will have to approve blends above 10% as well.

Already, some independent retailers in the Midwest are planning to make the shift as soon as they’re allowed.

“We’re planning to put E15 in eight of our 20-strong chain as soon as the labels have been approved,” said Kent Satrang, CEO and General Manager of Petro Serve USA, based in Fargo, North Dakota. Satrang plans to sell E15 at his eight gas stations that have blender pumps, which allow consumers to buy different levels of ethanol blends.

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