OPINION: Be ready for high octane future fuels

By Ron Lamberty, senior vice president, American Coalition for Ethanol | April 03, 2019

One of the reasons station owners have decided to install dispensers meeting UL specifications for E25 or E85 is the possibility a higher-octane, higher ethanol blend will be used by automakers to meet CAFÉ and/or greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations sometime in the near future. V-grade with 25 percent ethanol would have an AKI (US) octane rating of about 92, and a Research Octane Number (RON) around 98. If you’ve heard recent chatter about 95 RON fuel, it’s not E25, and wouldn’t be high-efficiency enough to make much difference in emissions.

At a recent ethanol industry event, another auto industry spokesperson scolded the ethanol industry for not jumping on what he wanted attendees to believe was a 95-RON legislative runaway train on a downhill track. And just in case ethanol supporters remembered the last two winters, when the annual “train” bearing down on ethanol turned out to be more like the Roadrunner with brushes on his feet, a light on his head, and a train whistle in his beak, this year’s “don’t be left behind with nothing” horror story included an attempt to create distrust of ethanol groups among their members. The speaker warned ethanol industry people “Do not let your associations and representatives sell you on advocacy for advocacy’s sake.”

The irony is there aren’t many better examples of advocacy for advocacy’s sake than the 95 RON plan cooked up by a few oil companies and supported by automaker associations and representatives like the guy giving the speech.

Remember five or six years ago, when the oil industry changed the U.S. base fuel to dirtier, less efficient sub-octane (83-84 AKI) fuel that only meets the minimum spec for gasoline-powered engines when ethanol or premium gas is added (without any testing or approval, BTW)? Prior to that, the nation’s base fuel was regular 87 AKI gasoline, which became 89.5 to 90 octane midgrade when ten percent ethanol was added. That fuel was 94 RON.

Essentially, automakers and their associations and advocates are advocating along with oil companies to merely give American drivers back the octane they took from them a few years ago. I described the sub-octane “v-grade” gambit as the oil companies stealing octane. I guess it’s more accurate to say they’re holding octane hostage and the ransom note says “95 RON.”

Maybe that’s not advocacy for advocacy’s sake, but it’s definitely not the other thing the auto industry spokesman recommended to ethanol producers, “Think bigger and bolder, and not incrementally…” and “Provide (your associations and advocates) support for bold positioning and encourage them to take risks. They need to ensure you are backing them for fundamental change.”

It’s not bold to return to 90 AKI E10. Bigger and bolder would be automakers telling EPA what they’ve told us for some time now: The quickest, easiest, least expensive way to improve engine efficiency is with higher-octane 98 or 100 RON fuel containing more ethanol. That’s fundamental change the ethanol would support. No threats necessary.

BTW - If you’re a station owner who has already updated your equipment, especially if you’re using blended dispensers to blend E10 with E85 to make E15, EPA’s “fix” to the summertime RVP issue could prevent you from using your pumps the way you intended when you bought them. Please submit comments to EPA before April 29, telling them not to change rules for using blender dispensers to offer E15.