Collectors, Enthusiasts Bucking E15, Seeking Ethanol-Free Gasoline

March 21, 2011
Corn Ethanol Pump

Corn Ethanol Pump

Car collectors and hobbyists are among those banding together to try to find alcohol-free gasoline—at a time when the percentage of alcohol in each gallon of typical pump gasoline is likely to increase significantly.

It's a trend we reported last year. Through forums, as well as, those with older cars are keeping tabs on stations that don't sell ethanol blends. That's because in older vehicles, rubber-containing components such as gaskets, seals, and fuel lines can harden and fail far earlier with ethanol-containing fuel, according to collectors and old-car restorers and mechanics. Higher ethanol concentration in fuel could, some have argued, shorten the life of catalytic converters in older vehicles.

U.S. retailers are already allowed to sell a blend of ten-percent ethanol (sometimes called E10) as normal pump gasoline, and ethanol is already blended into about 70 percent of gasoline nationwide. In some regions of the country, you simply can't find any gasoline that isn't E10.

As our Green Car Reports discussed last week, even though the legal status of E15 is uncertain, the U.S. EPA is planning to roll out E15 by this summer.

Based on an EPA decision made earlier this year, vehicles built in 2001 or later have been approved for the higher-ethanol fuel, while owners of older vehicles will have to avoid the stuff by carefully studying gas pumps. Heavy-duty vehicles of all types should also not be using E15.

This increase in ethanol in our fuel is largely the result of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, which calls for renewable-energy fuels to be increased eight times the current level, to 36 billion gallons, by 2022. The industry wouldn't be able to meet those targets with E10.

Automakers have also expressed concern that, even in some late-model vehicles, higher ethanol content could cause early failure for some fuel-system, engine, and emissions components that weren't designed for the fuel. And the greater propensity for attracting moisture can cause issues with vehicles that aren't regularly used.

One of the main issues for drivers of newer cars and E15, though, is that you'd get fewer miles out of a gallon. Vehicles already get two or three percent fewer miles per gallon on E10 versus alcohol-free blends, and it's likely vehicles would likely do a little worse on E15.

And for those thinking that prices on supply-pinched gasoline will fall with more domestically-produced ethanol in the mix, don't hold your breath; E85, which is 85 percent ethanol, has seldom paid off, as it tracks about 14 percent lower in price than gasoline on a national level yet returns 25 percent fewer miles per gallon.

[New York Times]

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