UAI challenges CRC ethanol study, calls test procedures flawed

By EPM Staff | March 30, 2017

The Urban Air Initiative is calling the results of a new Coordinating Research Council emissions study “one more example of the biased and flawed testing procedures used to penalize ethanol.”

The ethanol advocacy group said Wednesday CRC’s match blending of test fuels fails to recognize how ethanol truly performs in real world fuels, improving fuel quality and reducing toxic tailpipe emissions. The organization remains concerned that this inaccurate data will be used by the U.S. EPA to continue limiting the use of higher ethanol blends.

The CRC released the study at a California Real World Workshop this week, where UAI attended. CRC is a joint effort of the American Petroleum Institute and several automakers. UAI contends that the CRC’s fundamental approach of match blending fuels in the lab instead of using real world fuels, similar to what consumer’s purchase discredits the study. According to UAI, there are more than 400 chemicals in gasoline. So to start a fuel study, a custom recipe test fuel is created in the lab. Ideally this recipe matches the real-world fuels you would find at the corner gas station. But UAI has found over and over that it does not. The CRC study adds aromatics to the recipe as it adds ethanol, claims UAI, “which does not match real-world fuels and falsely blames ethanol for increasing cancer-causing emissions.” The group believes this is wrong and asserts that a more accurate way to mimic real-world fuels is to splash blend, or simply add ethanol to the gasoline, like you would add cream to your coffee. When this happens, emissions are reduced because ethanol replaces a portion of toxic aromatics, which is what actually happens at your corner station.

According to UAI Technical Director Steve Vander Griend, the CRC’s procedures are like the three cup shell game where it is a mystery as to which cup holds the shell. "The way these tests are conducted, with varying and unrealistic fuel characteristics, it’s difficult to pinpoint the culprit,” Vander Griend said. “But we’ve seen this game for years and know that manipulating the base fuels and then adding ethanol falsely skews the results against ethanol. And quite frankly, this reflects the preferences of the petroleum industry."

In another CRC workshop earlier this month, also attended by UAI, a presentation by EPA revealed that its emissions model under-predicted a type of hydrocarbon that contributes to particulate emissions by 400 percent. "You would think that we learned a lesson from the Volkswagen fiasco,” said Vander Griend. “Models, and even lab equipment, do not tell the story about real-world emissions if they are based on biased and false test fuels like this EPA model.”

UAI has been on EPA's trail for years, according to Vander Griend. In this current study, he estimates CRC’s base fuel that ethanol was then added contained 15 percent more toxic aromatics than an equivalent fuel with no ethanol. "When we add ethanol we allow for less aromatics in the fuel since ethanol is the octane booster and can replace toxic aromatic compounds,” he said. “No real world fuels would ever look like the test fuels used by CRC, and we can see this proved over and over in standard annual fuel surveys done across the United States."

UAI officials say this is just one more flawed study related to ethanol. The group says this “misguided approach” of match blending test fuels originated in a 2006 CRC study. The data from that study provided the pathway for EPA’s fuel effects study known as the “EPAct study” and the agency’s vehicular emissions computer model called MOVES2014. Vander Griend and others say this information is critically important because it sets the tone for an institutional bias against ethanol, and it informs federal and state fuel policies that limit ethanol’s growth in the market and impair the nation’s air quality.

UAI President Dave Vander Griend says ethanol is just looking for a fair and accurate assessment. "In the actual real world fuel you fill up with today, we know clean-burning ethanol reduces particulate emissions that are increasingly linked to cancer,” he said. “We know that ethanol reduces aromatic content in gasoline. And we know ethanol reduces carbon monoxide, sulfur, CO2, NOX, and every criteria pollutant if we take advantage of ethanol's chemical properties."

To that end, said Vander Griend, UAI is producing an extensive Fuel Blending Guide for Vehicle Testing that will guide researchers to a better understanding of changes in fuel properties when evaluating ethanol and emissions. Our goal is for lab test fuels to match the fuels in use today so the resulting studies and models will be accurate. The guide will be available to research organizations like the CRC as well as state regulators and air quality officials.

For further information on UAI studies and regulatory actions, visit http://fixourfuel.com/policy/