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The Spaminator
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EPA allows 15% ethanol in gasoline, but only for late-model car
By Fred Meier
Oct 13, 2010

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it now will allow up to 15% ethanol to be blended with gasoline in motor fuel -- but only for use in cars and trucks built since 2007.

Engine valve damaged by carbon buildup from fuel with 20% ethanol. The blend created resin in a fiberglass boat fuel tank and the resulting gunk coated the valve.

The current allowable limit is 10%, and remains so for older vehicles, all motorcycles, heavy-duty vehicles and non-road engines (everything from leaf blowers to motorboats).

That sets up potential confusion at the gas pump. Buyers could have to choose not only among octane ratings but also between E-10 and E-15. And while E-10 now is fairly common, stations are not required to offer it or the new E-15 -- and some already say they are going to sit out E-15 for now.

The move does not affect special E-85 fuel -- an 85% ethanol/gas blend not considered gasoline at all -- already allowed by the EPA. E-85, sold mostly in the Midwest, only can be used in vehicles designed as "flex fuel" machines, to take the higher concentration of more-corrosive ethanol without damage.

EPA says thorough testing has shown E-15 won't cause problems in the newer vehicles.

Even though the E-15 blend is intended for cars and trucks -- indeed, it's technically illegal to use it in other engines -- the small-engine lobby figures it'll nevertheless wind up in the hundreds of millions of chainsaws, leaf blowers, law mowing equipment, boats, all-terrain vehicles and the like.

It's unlikely that a station would sell both E-10 and E-15, and even more unlikely that a motorist would fill up the car at at E-15 station (where the higher blend of ethanol will make the fuel a little cheaper), then search out an E-10 or straight-gasoline station to fill the lawn mower gas can, says Kris Kiser, executive vice president of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute.

E-15 "will get into products it shouldn't, and there'll be lawsuits," he predicts.

"The new ethanol blends, known as E-15, come with serious risks for our engines, wildlife, water, and the air we all breathe," warns Nathanael Greene at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental activist group.

"A broad coalition of environmentalists, public health advocates, livestock ranchers, and automakers have long opposed EPA's move," he says. "Burning ethanol can cause toxic air pollutants to be emitted from vehicle tailpipes, especially at higher blend levels like E-15. The chemistry is fairly straightforward: ethanol burns hotter than gasoline, causing catalytic converters to break down faster."

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