Wondering What If

FROM THE OCTOBER ISSUE: Real-world fuels are needed as part of real-world testing to prove ethanol's worth in helping to boost octane and lower emissions.
By Steve Vander Griend | September 17, 2019

I was lucky enough to get away for vacation recently, but couldn’t help but keep an eye on various news clips.

In some respects, I wish I had turned my phone off because it was a depressing stretch in the media for ethanol. And as is often the case, we can thank our friends at the U.S. EPA.

While we are all glad Reid vapor pressure (RVP) relief for E15 was finalized, limiting us to E15 makes this a small victory rather than the game-changer it could have been. While the RVP issue, waivers and the renewable volume obligations were in the headlines, the air quality and carbon value of ethanol continued to be maligned, with no better example than Colorado considering a move back to E0 because of what the computer models say. Whose models? You guessed it, EPA’s.

Our value and future success is captive to EPA’s calculations. I wonder what a different place we would find ourselves in today if some 10 years ago, when EPA launched a series of studies and tests, it had simply added ethanol to gasoline, as is done in the real world. What would the answers to the following questions be if EPA had actually looked at real-world fuels and octane for many of its recent rulemakings?

• Would the approval of E15 seven years ago have included RVP relief if the data for E10 wasn’t manipulated to say E10 raised ozone? Volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by weight can still go up with the one-pound waiver, but ozone can still go down based on the type of VOCs emitted.

• Would EPA’s Tier 3 rulemaking in 2014 have included provisions for E25 or E30 if EPA’s testing had shown that vehicles today could benefit from higher octane? When EPA only used premium fuels to support Tier 3, EPA ignored octane, even though it asked for comments on this in the rulemaking.

• Would the 2014 EPA Motor Vehicle Emission Simulator (MOVES) have shown ethanol lowering emissions? Today, Denver is considering a move back to E0, Kansas City doesn’t want E15, Mexico doesn’t want E10 in urban areas, all because of the EPA MOVES model.

• Would the current E15 RVP relief rule also have promoted E15 and higher blends such as E20 and E25? Since all cars sold since 2017 are now certified on E10, current EPA data could easily say E20 and E25 are approved for 2017 and newer vehicles.

• Would we even be talking about the Renewable Fuel Standard or refinery waivers if we were selling more than 15 billion gallons of ethanol domestically? RIN values would be just pennies at most and no one in the corn industry would need to rely on the RFS.

As this illustrates, our world would be quite different from what we face today, with a brighter future and a pathway to higher blends to the benefit of public health, energy security, and economic and rural development.

If ethanol is to move forward and help raise octane, while at the same time lower emissions and consumer cost, the bad science of the past has to be corrected. And it’s never too late. The Urban Air Initiative is working to make those corrections, challenging the models, leading the way on real-world testing and making the case that ethanol is a cleaner fuel.

Our industry needs to demand transparency, real-world testing, and real-world fuels, as crucial decisions are being made at EPA that will have a significant impact on our future. That way, we won’t have to wonder, “What if?”

Author: Steve Vander Griend
Technical Director, Urban Air Initiative
[email protected]