UL supports 15 percent ethanol in legacy pumps

By Kris Bevill | February 04, 2009
Web exclusive posted Feb. 19, 2009, at 3:45 p.m. CST

After months of extensive testing, Underwriters Laboratories Inc., a non-profit product safety organization, announced Feb. 19 it supports the use of fuel blended with up to 15 percent ethanol in existing fuel dispensers. Previously, UL approved blends that were no greater than E10, the legal limit for non-flex fuel vehicles, in legacy dispensers. Newly installed pumps have been approved for blends of up to E85 since 2007 when the UL released its 87A rating.

"UL determined that there is no significant incremental risk of damage between E10 and fuels with a maximum of 15 percent ethanol," said John Drengenberg, Consumer Affairs Manager for UL. However, he added, E10 has been known to consist of up to 13 percent ethanol. Therefore, the organization's support of fuel containing 15 percent ethanol should not be misinterpreted to mean they approve E15 as that blend could consist of higher percentages of ethanol. Still, Drengenberg said their new approval rating "could help in the long run" and that UL researchers are committed to advanced technology and continued research of higher percentages of ethanol.

The final decision to allow 15 percent ethanol to be used in existing fuel dispensers lies with local authorities, of which there are more than 5,000 throughout the U.S. UL recommends that local authorities consult with dispenser manufacturers to confirm the product is compatible with 15 percent ethanol before allowing it to be used. Drengenberg also stressed that legacy pumps used to dispense 15 percent ethanol should be subjected to frequent inspections as prescribed by the manufacturer. As a result of using higher ethanol blend percentages, potential issues include corrosion, leakage and abnormal operations.

Extensive corrosion is the largest downfall facing ethanol percentages greater than 15 percent, according to Drengenberg. During UL's testing, it was confirmed that corrosivity increased with higher percentages of ethanol. The UL has determined that more research is required before approving of blends greater than 15 percent ethanol. Researchers will also evaluate field findings of 15 percent ethanol usages as it becomes available.

"UL continues to support technological advancements, while protecting safety. That is why we have invested resources and efforts that go far beyond any business benefit UL might gain from this work to support the ethanol industry's desire to have safety certification requirements established for E85 fuel dispensers," Drengenberg said.