NREL: Most fueling equipment is compatible with E15

By Erin Voegele | May 27, 2015

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently released a study that has determined most existing fuel dispensing components, including underground storage tanks, are compatible with E15. The report was commissioned by the Renewable Fuels Association with financial support from the Blend Your Own Ethanol campaign, a joint effort of the RFA and American Coalition for Ethanol.

“Over the last decade, a tremendous amount of work by refueling equipment manufacturers, industry groups, and federal agencies has resulted in a long list of equipment that can be used with E15,” said NREL in the report, noting that its technical document includes a literature review, a summary of applicable codes and standards, a review of equipment manufacturer products, and verification with manufacturers regarding which ethanol blend work with their products. “Over time, the refueling equipment manufacturers have improved their sealing materials for compatibility with a wide range of fuels. Upgrading materials in equipment improves consumer safety and reduces the risk of releases to the environment,” NREL continued in the report

While it is often stated that tanks cannot be used to store E15, the report calls that assumption incorrect, noting that the majority of installed tanks can store blends above E10. According to NREL, for many decades, underground storage tank (UST) manufacturers have approved their tanks for blends of up to E100. In addition, manufacturers of pipe thread sealants used in UST systems have stated that their products have been compatible with ethanol blends up to E20 for many years.

“All fuel and vapor handling equipment at a station was reviewed to determine if it was certified by a third-party (such as UL) and if it was listed for specific ethanol blends,” said NREL in the report, adding that the aggregated list confirms there are UL testing standards available now for all gasoline-ethanol blends from 0 percent to 85 percent ethanol.

The report also notes that a literature review going back 15 years was conducted to determine if there were any negative impacts during the multi-year deployment of E10 nationwide. The review identified no incidents of E10 causing releases from UST systems, and none of the reviewed literature noted any association between E10 and any specific UST release.

 Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the RFA, pointed out how the report relates to the current blend wall debate over the renewable fuel standard (RFS). “This comprehensive analysis is both timely and relevant to the current debate about the so-called ‘blend wall’ that some would like to use to limit the growth opportunities for ethanol under the RFS,” he said. “Clearly, the constraints to the increased use of E15 have more to do with the recalcitrance of refiners and marketers than they do any real infrastructure barriers. Today’s comprehensive study should once and for all belie the misplaced conclusion that infrastructure and ethanol demand limitations should justify a reduction in the RFS as it found most equipment at a retail fuel station today, including underground storage tanks, are compatible with E15. This study demonstrates that most retailers will not be required to break concrete and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to offer E15.”

Ron Lamberty, senior vice president of ACE, indicated rumors over the high equipment cost of E15 have been greatly exaggerated. “NREL’s analysis confirms what we have been telling station owners since E15 was approved—most underground storage tanks (USTs), piping, and other fueling equipment are already compatible with E15,” he said.

Lamberty also noted the ethanol industry has been criticized and called dangerous and dishonest for suggesting marketers could simply put E15 in tanks they previously used for premium or midgrade gasoline. “Even after highlighting real-world fuel marketers selling E15 from existing equipment, the myth of high priced E15 infrastructure remains,” he said. “This study effectively busts that myth.”

“In stations where Big Oil couldn’t contractually ban E15, they had to scare the owners out of offering the less-expensive, higher-octane fuel,” Lamberty explained. “As EPA nears its June 1 deadline for proposing new RFS blending targets, this NREL information, coupled with the number of vehicles built and warrantied for E15 growing beyond 50 million, should help them see Big Oil’s blend wall bogeyman isn’t real.”

A copy of the report, titled “E15 and Infrastructure” can be downloaded from the NREL website. An NREL webinar to review the report is scheduled for June 11.