EPA report on pollutants, ethanol is flawed, white paper says

By Holly Jessen | September 06, 2013

Ethanol Across America has released a new white paper that indicates mid-level ethanol blends offer much greater emission and health benefits than indicated by U.S. EPA models. The three-page document authored by Steve Vander Griend is titled “Understanding the Emissions Benefits of Higher Ethanol Blends: EPA Modeling Fails to Tell the Whole Story.”

Vander Griend, chair of the Technical Committee for the Urban Air Initiative, wrote it in response to recently released EPA testing data that updates models governing future fuel use, a change that will impact ethanol use for years to come, he said in an email. Although the testing has gone under the radar for many it’s a large-scale project with 22 people working on it for nearly 7 years. “Recent statements by EPA have many concerned and for good reason,” he said.  

The EPA’s report on the testing concludes that a higher percentage of ethanol results in more harmful pollutants. “Brilliant piece of work,” he wrote in the white paper. “The truth is ethanol is a single molecule that is environmentally benign. You can drink it, cleanse a wound with it, burn it in a closed room, all with no harmful side effects. Try that with a cup of gasoline!”

The truth is, the methodology of the EPA’s model is seriously flawed and the results of the testing are skewed, he wrote. In fact, he points to a recent EPA presentation available on the EPA Transportation and Air Quality website that includes a note on one of the slides reading, “CAUTION, does not work this way for real fuels.”

The reason the report came up with the conclusion that ethanol pollutes has to do with the formulation of the gasoline that is blended with ethanol, not the ethanol itself, he said. Refineries produce sub-octane Reformulated Blendstock for Oxygenate Blending (RBOB), for example, when 10 percent ethanol will be added later, resulting in the fuel’s octane level reaching the required levels, the white paper said.

Another concern is the variation of results depending on whether splash blending or match blending is used. Splash blending is when ethanol is simply added to gasoline. Match blending, which the EPA used in this study, is when the base fuel is altered so that it achieves the desired outcome. In addition, the EPA ignored the effect of ethanol’s clean octane levels, which improves engine performance and reduces carbon emissions. “By not holding a set octane point throughout the test, higher levels of dirty octane were added to the test fuels resulting in higher particulate emissions,” he wrote in the white paper. “… had octane been a fuel parameter, ethanol blended fuels would have favorably compared to fuels in the test. As a result, its superior health, performance and economic value is hidden.”

Vander Griend concluded that the EPA has repeatedly relied on data and studies that err on the side of petroleum while penalizing ethanol. “Importantly, these studies continually fail to show proper consideration for the impact of aromatics and the toxic components of gasoline,” he said. “It’s high time EPA re-evaluates these studies which will clearly show that the splash blending of ethanol with gasoline results in improved fuel quality and protects public health.”

A full copy of the white paper can be downloaded at the Ethanol Across America website, in the white paper section.