Ethanol groups testify on the benefits of high-octane fuels

By Erin Voegele | September 26, 2018

Representatives of the Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy and the American Coalition for Ethanol were among those who testified at a Sept. 25 public hearing on a proposed rule to set new fuel economy and tailpipe greenhouse gas (GHG) standards for model year (MY) 2021-2026 vehicles.

On Aug. 2, the U.S. EPA and U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration first released a proposed rule to amend certain existing corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) and GHG standards for passenger cars and light trucks and establish new standards for MY 2021-2026. The rule is officially titled the “Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021-2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks,” or the SAFE Vehicles Rule. 

Testimony offered by the RFA, Growth Energy and ACE focused primarily on the potential of high-octane, low-carbon fuels.

According to the RFA, a high-octane, low-carbon fuels containing 20-40 percent ethanol used in optimized engines would be the lowest cost means of achieving compliance with the SAFE Vehicles Rule.

“Clearly, pairing advanced internal combustion engine technologies like high compression ratio and turbocharging with high-octane low carbon fuels would result in far greater fuel economy and emissions benefits than previously contemplated by EPA and NHTSA,” said Kelly Davis, vice president of regulatory affairs at the RFA.

“Consensus is building around the need for High Octane Low Carbon fuels to enable greater engine efficiency and reduced emissions. Automotive engineers and executives, government scientists, expert panels, and university researchers have called for a higher minimum octane rating for future fuels,” Davis continued.

According to Davis, research by the U.S. Department of Energy and others has shown that ethanol is an ideal source of octane in high-octane fuel blends. She indicated a high-octane fuel with a 98-100 research octane number (RON) could be produced today by blending 25-30 percent ethanol with existing gasoline blend stocks.

“Action by the EPA is necessary to catalyze the development and introduction of high octane low carbon fuels into the consumer market, just as EPA action was required to eliminate lead, limit benzene, and reduce the sulfur content of our gasoline and diesel fuel,” Davis said.

She also asked the EPA and NHTSA to use the SAFE Vehicles Rule rulemaking to establish a roadmap for increasing the minimum octane rating of gasoline to 98 RON, and ensure automakers are afforded credit toward these fuel economy requirements for building engines that require higher-octane fuels.

In his testimony, Chris Bliley, president of regulatory affairs at Growth Energy, discussed the benefits of high-octane, midlevel ethanol blends in improving octane and lowering GHG and criteria pollutant emissions.

“The American ethanol industry stands ready to move America forward,” Bliley said. “With a stable policy and access to drivers, we believe we can deliver low-carbon, low-cost, high-performing, sustainable vehicle fuel solutions.”

“The science supporting the benefits of a high-octane fuel, and specifically a midlevel ethanol blend in the E25-E30 range, in conjunction with a high compression ratio engine is not new, and has been well-explored by the national laboratories, automobile manufacturers, and other scientific institutions,” Bliley continued. “Ethanol has a very high-octane number, has a lower carbon content than the gasoline components it replaces, and has many other benefits that assist in combustion to increase engine efficiency and reduce both greenhouse gas and tailpipe criteria pollutant emissions.”

Information released by Growth Energy states the group is continuing to encourage EPA and NHTSA to remove regulatory barriers to the adoption of high-octane, midlevel blends. This includes approval of blends like 100 RON, E30 fuel for vehicle certification, requiring minimum octane standards, updating fuel economy formulas, re-establishing flex-vehicle credits, and granting waiver relief for all ethanol blends over 10 percent.

In his testimony, Brian Jennings, CEO of ACE, emphasized how ethanol-enriched, high-octane fuel blends of 25-30 percent ethanol—in the 99-100 RON range—would enable automakers to simultaneously reduce GHG emissions and improve fuel economy.

“Research indicates the use of 98 to 100 RON fuel containing at least 25 percent ethanol results in 3 to 9 percent efficiency gains in high-compression engines which are beginning to dominate the marketplace,” Jennings said.

“Increasing the content of ethanol in gasoline is but one way to produce high octane fuel,” he continued. “We recognize refiners prefer 95 RON where additional octane is petroleum-derived and ethanol content is capped at 10 percent. Ultimately, however, EPA needs to weigh benefits and costs. In some wholesale markets today, unleaded gasoline costs nearly one-dollar-per-gallon more than ethanol.

“Not only will 98 to 100 RON fuel containing 25 to 30 percent ethanol save consumers compared to the premium-priced octane level being advocated by oil refiners, it is a more cost-effective approach for automakers to achieve meaningful efficiency gains and emission reductions,” Jennings said.

A 60-day public comment period on the SAFE Vehicles Rule opened Aug. 24. Comments can be filed online at www.reglations.gov under Docket No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2018-0283 and/or NHTSA-2018-0067 through Oct. 23. Addition information and a full copy of the SAFE Vehicles Rule is available on the Federal Register website.