Controversy brews over increased ethanol fuels for older cars

Despite an ongoing controversy, new study finds that moving from 10 percent ethanol in gasoline to 15 percent would be fine for new and older vehicles.

Suzanne Ashe
Suzanne Ashe has been covering technology, gadgets, video games, and cars for several years. In addition to writing features and reviews for magazines and Web sites, she has contributed to daily newspapers.
Suzanne Ashe
2 min read

Two organizations have squared off this week regarding whether increasing ethanol in fuels from 10 to 15 percent will damage engines in vehicles older than 2001, smaller gas-powered motors, and increase the cost of corn production.

One out-spoken organization, Renewable Fuels Association, hopes the Environmental Protection Agency will reconsider the limits they place on ethanol fuels based on a new study.

In a press conference today, Renewable Fuels revealed the findings of a new study conducted by Ricardo Inc. (the company that set octane standards). The study finds that moving from 10 percent ethanol (E10) in gasoline to 15 percent (E15) would be fine for new and older vehicles.

The EPA may soon approve E15 for use in vehicles 2001 or 2007 and newer.

Ricardo tested 1994 to 2000 vehicle models and found that the proposed move toward 15 percent ethanol will have little to no impact on passenger car and light truck fleets. The vehicles analyzed in the report were from six different companies and represent 25 percent (62.8 million light vehicles) on the road.

"This analysis provides conclusive evidence for the EPA that there is no reason to limit the availability of E15 to newer vehicles only," said Bob Dinneen, Renewable Fuels Association president. "This analysis together with affirmative results in reports from the Department of Energy and other academic and private testing institutions show that there are no significant issues with the use of E15 in virtually all vehicles on the road today."

The controversy centers on the fact that no comprehensive testing has been done to satisfy the dozens of food, energy, and outdoor-recreation interest groups.

The organization, Follow the Science, said the 50 percent increase in ethanol could damage engines of boats, motorcycles, ATVs, snowmobiles, chainsaws, lawnmowers, and other gas-powered lawn equipment--plus, it could put a strain on corn growers.

Follow the Science reports that increased ethanol may harm catalytic converters and the increase of corn production (corn is used to make ethanol) may have an impact on livestock feed costs.

"Consumers will need to become Gasoline Detectives. They will need to know which model years can run on E15 and which cannot, and even then--since the testing so far is not comprehensive--they won't know for certain whether it's safe," Follow the Science said in a news release.