By Rebekah Rast — Nine gas stations in the nation now have pumps with E15 gasoline.
E15 is a blend of regular gasoline mixed with 15 percent ethanol. The pumps are recognized by their black and orange labels.
And that label is not something you want to ignore.
In an effort to curb U.S. dependency on gasoline and oil — foreign and domestic — the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the use of E15 gasoline for vehicle models 2001 and newer.
However controversy surrounds this new blend and whether or not it is safe for your vehicle.
Many automobile companies as well as the American Automobile Association (AAA) warn against the use of this fuel blend for anything but Flexible Fuel Vehicles, 2012 and newer General Motors vehicles, 2013 Fords and 2001 and later model Porsches.
A USA Today article quoted AAA President and CEO Robert Darbelnet explaining, “It is clear that millions of Americans are unfamiliar with E15, which means there is a strong possibility that many may improperly fill up using this gasoline and damage their vehicle.”
He went onto say that, “BMW, Chrysler, Nissan, Toyota and VW have said their warranties will not cover fuel-related claims caused by E15. Ford, Honda, Kia, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo have said E15 use will void warranties.”
The reasons: potential corrosive damage to fuel lines, gaskets and other engine components.
Nonetheless, the EPA along with a host of ethanol and renewable energy backers say E15 is perfectly safe for your vehicle.
In a CNBC video, Renewable Fuels Association CEO Bob Dinneen said E15 is “absolutely safe” to put in cars.
Taking these competing views into consideration, if you have a vehicle model year 2001 and newer, is the E15 blend a wise choice for you?
A study done the by Coordinating Research Council (CRC) investigated the effects of E20, E15 and E0 ethanol blends on several non-Flexible Fuel Vehicles in use today. The study concluded that “out of eight different tested engine types, one had a design that was (in retrospect) inappropriate for the test cycle, two failed on E20 and E15, and five passed on E20 and by assumption E15 and E0.”
Therefore, two popular gasoline engines used in vehicle model years 2001 through 2009 had mechanical failures when tested with E15 and E20 blends. The study also concluded that the “majority of the failures can be linked to issues with valve seats, either related to material or wear/deformation.”
Even more alarming, according to an AAA survey of its members, 95 percent of them don’t know what E15 is or the possible effects it could have on their vehicle. AAA is asking the EPA to hold off implementing this new blend until more testing can be done and more education given to vehicle owners.
Because of this conflict of opinion between automakers and the EPA about the safety of E15, many gas station operators are holding off on investing in the new E15 pumps.
However, there is a push out of D.C. to get these operators to start installing these pumps. The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act mandates that 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels be used by 2022.
Last year, about 13.9 billion gallons of ethanol were produced; well on the way to the target number of 36 billion gallons. For comparison, in 2011, the U.S. consumed about 134 billion gallons of gasoline. Already, about 10 percent of our gasoline contains ethanol.
Though this is celebrated by renewable energy supporters, ethanol producers and this current administration, this push towards ethanol hasn’t come without a price.
This year has been a dry and hot one for the most the U.S., including the Midwest where much of the corn is produced. The USDA projects a corn crop of 10.8 billion bushels, or a decline of more than 12 percent from last year’s crop of about 12.4 billion bushels.
Of course this drop in corn production increases the price of corn — and other foods as well.
The UK Guardian reports, “The price of corn, the staple crop of much of the Midwest and the prairies, has risen by a third in the past month and rose again on Wednesday after a US government report said farmers would not yield as much from their parched fields as expected. Higher prices are likely to be passed on in the cost of hamburgers and steak and also affect a range of other foods such as corn flakes and bread.”
Is the use of ethanol as gasoline worth increased food prices in this economy?
Likely no, especially if the use of ethanol doesn’t mix well with your car’s engine.
Though E15 is likely to be sold at a lower price, due to subsidies to ethanol producers and to spur consumers to make the switch, there is a case to be made that most cars on the road today simply aren’t ready.
Beware of the orange and black label.
Rebekah Rast is a contributing editor to Americans for Limited Government (ALG) and NetRightDaily.com. You can follow her on twitter at @RebekahRast.