The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

E15 Causes Equipment Failures, Says DOE Study

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted December 17, 2010

In comments filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), API today revealed that a Department of Energy (DOE)-funded study shows the vast majority of existing gasoline pumps will fail if used to dispense E15.

E15 is a fuel blend consisting of 85 percent gasoline and 15 percent ethanol. EPA has approved E15 for use in 2007 and newer model vehicles.

The study, which was conducted by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) for DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), shows that 40 percent of new dispensing equipment designed for use with E10 (today's gasoline) failed tests, and 70 percent of previously used E10 equipment failed tests.

There also is a strong similarity between the materials used in aboveground equipment and underground storage tank systems, leading API to conclude that there is a high risk associated with using E15 in E10-designed underground equipment. API says there are serious safety concerns with any equipment not specifically designed to pump E15.

In tests of dispenser equipment, DOE's study found significant problems with dispenser meter/manifold/valve assemblies, nozzles, swivels, gaskets, seals and breakaways. The breakaways are designed to cut off the flow of gasoline when a customer drives away from the pump with the nozzle still in the vehicle's fill pipe. An E15-associated failure of this safety feature could lead to a serious safety hazard, possibly including a fire.

There also are concerns about the effect of E15 on the pressure/vacuum (P/V) valves on underground fuel storage tanks. These valves allow air to flow into the tank to replace the fuel being pumped out. A P/V valve failure could cause an underground storage tank holding thousands of gallons of gasoline to collapse, possibly causing groundwater contamination.

API believes additional testing on the compatibility of aboveground and underground equipment with E15 is warranted. "The screening test undertaken by DOE showed substantial failures in commonly used equipment which should compel additional testing to take place," API says in its comments.

EPA is considering extending its approval of E15 to include vehicles built before 2007. It also is working on pump labels with the goal of avoiding misfueling by consumers. Yesterday API and 23 other groups asked EPA to provide a 60-day extension of the comment period, allowing stakeholders "to devote their full attention to [the E15 issue] in 2011."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Van Ryan was formerly senior communications manager and new media advisor at the American Petroleum Institute (API), where she wrote blog posts and produced podcasts and videos. Before coming to API, Jane managed communications for a large science and engineering corporation, and for a top-tier research and engineering university. A few years ago, you might have seen her in your living room when she delivered the news on television. Jane officially retired from API in 2011 and now freelances as an independent communications consultant when not gardening at her farm in Virginia.