On the heels of the EPA's April 2nd announcement that it was approving ethanol production to make E15 in our nation's gasoline, there's still confusion among consumers on what kind of vehicles can use 15% ethanol or 10% ethanol. For those who have spent time observing how government works, this confusion is not surprising in the least. There's been talking of E15 coming to our local gas stations for over a year now, but the actual implementation of it has been a lot slower. This EPA announcement means the final hurdle has been crossed and we should start seeing it everywhere relatively soon.
There's also a lot of noise out there about who can use E15 safely. The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) tells us that ethanol is great and is safe for everybody. Okay, not everybody, but their position is pretty broad on who ethanol is good for and who is not affected by ethanol gas problems. And why not, their mission is to promote more renewable fuels for everybody.
Back in 2010, Popular Science published a new article on the RFA urging the EPA to approve E15 for everybody. By "everybody", they meant "older vehicles", since it was already anticipated to be approved for newer cars and trucks. The RFA cited a study by an automotive engineering firm that looked at changes in fuel system components from 1994 to 2000 (changes needed to meet changing emissions standards at the time) and concluded that it was likely E15 wouldn't harm vehicles of this age. Thus, the RFA urges everybody to use ethanol.
The problem is that the EPA on April 2nd specifically said that cars from 2001 on back shouldn't use E15 and that their conclusion was based on their testing of the fuel blend. The EPA tests different kinds of fuels and tested E15 over a number of months in actual vehicles. They saw enough evidence that 15% ethanol in gas would be a problem in those older vehicles that the stickers you will be seeing on the E15 pumps at your local station specifically say vehicles from 2001 on back should not use ethanol. That's pretty clear cut.
Unfortunately for those of us with older high mileage vehicles, it's not clear how easy it will be to get fuels other than E15 once the transition is complete. It's already getting harder and harder to find ethanol free gas. And while the EPA is chipping in to help pay for the cost of installing 5,000 E15 pumps at stations around the nation, there are over 100,000 gas stations, many of which will face hard financial choices on whether they can afford to stock E10 and E15 and E0 ethanol gas.
This post was published on April 20, 2012 and was updated on July 1, 2016.