Let’s Talk About E15

Joanna Schroeder

Let’s talk about E15, or the use of 15 percent ethanol, 85 percent gasoline, in our conventional cars and light duty trucks. I don’t think people understand well enough why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conducting so much research on the fuel. What it really comes down to is emissions. Let me explain.

Last Friday I attended the California Ethanol Symposium: An Examination of Demand vs. Feasibility and Viability. It was one of 32 events being held around the country sponsored in part by the Clean Transportation Education Project. Other companies participated in this event including the Antelope Valley Clean Cities, Clean Cities Coalitions (part of U.S. Department of Energy), Advanced Transportation Technology & Energy located at Rio Hondo College, and Purpose Focused Alternative Learning Corporation.

Rich Cregar, an Instructor of Automotive Systems Technology at Wake Tech Community College in Raleigh, NC as well as the Co-Director of the Code Green CIP Project gave an in-depth presentation on ethanol that included comprehensive information about E15. He explained that there are three main reasons why E15 is safe to use in conventional vehicles and light duty trucks manufactured after 2007 (for the sake of space, I’ll shorten the reference to model year 2007 or newer from this point forward).

First, they all CAN networked and the car’s computer, if needed, can be easily and inexpensively updated to use E15. Second, All 2007 cars and new have an onboard air fuel ratio sensor that maintains correct emission levels. Third, there is an issue with the catalytic wash code. Ethanol tends to cylinder out emissions of aldehydes, which are carcinogenic hydrocarbon compounds. Catalytic converters in 2007 vehicles or later can deal with these aldehydes effectively, aka emission control.

Whereas 2007 vehicles have the ability to control “emissions” per se of E15, some, but not all cars manufactured before 2007 may not have this ability. That is why the EPA is still waiting for tests before they make a decision on whether to allow 2001 and newer vehicles to use e15.

So what happens if you use it and something goes wrong? Your check engine light will come on. However, in the cars that are CAN networked, an auto technician can update the computer to use E15.

As many of you are aware, there are lawsuits flying around about the use of E15 from the small engine, marine and lawn manufactures among others. Why? Cregar explained that ethanol burns hotter so in small engines, ethanol can do mechanical damage to the engine. In addition, E15 is aggressive towards a lot of plastics, nylons and polymers that are used in older vehicles and smaller equipment and that actually becomes a safety concern because you could have a fuel leakage issue – you could actually dissolve the gas tank in some cases.

Cregar also said the opponents concerns about someone pumping E15 into a gas can and then using that fuel in a small engine is a real concern. He said there’s talk that this ruling could end self service fuel stations. New Jersey is a model for this and they abolished self service stations a few years ago.

You can hear in-depth explanations on E15 effects on vehicles in my interview with Rich Cregar. Rich Cregar

You can also see photos of the California Ethanol Symposium in my flickr photo album.

Audio, blends, Ethanol, Ethanol News