The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

An Open Letter to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association

Bob Greco

Bob Greco
Posted October 3, 2013

Thanks for your recent invitation to your “Ride & Drive” event. We agree that teaching the public about cylinder leakage in engines using E15 is valuable. Unfortunately, your invitation was sent to the wrong recipient.

You say that the Coordinating Research Council (CRC), which has been the gold standard in terms of vehicle testing for the better part of a century, used an “arbitrary threshold” for cylinder leakage during E15 testing. You seem upset about the results on vehicle damage. Surely you meant to address the invitation to the auto manufacturers, who have stated their concerns that E15 will damage engines, void warranties and reduce fuel efficiency.

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Before you send this invitation along to the auto industry, it would probably be helpful to correct the false statements. We wouldn’t want you making the same mistake again. You mention that the 10 percent cylinder leakage threshold is “arbitrary” and that there is no testing or scientific basis for the statement that “E15 could leave millions of consumers with broken down cars and high repair bills.” Bear with us while we get a bit technical.

Far from arbitrary, the 10 percent cylinder leakage criterion was used to determine whether there was engine distress and served as a signal that teardown was required. It is an accepted and standard industry practice for determining engine distress. The failure was determined only after an inspection during engine teardown by the car company that made the engine, an evaluation method that has been used in the automotive industry for more than 100 years. (It’s important to note that while two of the eight vehicles tested had greater than 10 percent leakage, after designers of those engines inspected them they were deemed to have passed the test.) Seeing as automotive experts have been using these procedures for years to ensure that their vehicles don’t fail in the field, we really can’t consider them arbitrary.

You also mention that your goal with this event is to teach people “the truth about E15’s performance quality.” To that end, we recommend you consider the full range of CRC tests, which demonstrate that higher levels of ethanol in fuel could damage  millions of U.S. vehicles, or, as demonstrated in the fuel system durability test, that E15 can cause fuel pump failures. You might have a bit more difficulty trying to drive 2,000 miles in a car that can’t pump fuel to the engine.

It’s clear you’ve missed the point about the CRC test results. Some engines and fuel systems passed the E15 tests and some failed. Some even passed using E20. The bottom line is that there are millions of vehicles on the road today that weren’t designed or warranted to use fuel with ethanol content greater than 10 percent, and the CRC research confirms that they could be put at risk by using E15.

CRC testing is a clear scientific basis for auto manufacturer concerns, and these tests demonstrate that cylinder leakage is not the only concern when using E15. Considering these facts, we do hope that you are not driving to Washington using E15 in a vehicle that wasn’t designed for it. If so, we’re happy to send a tow truck to meet you.

We hope we have clarified these points enough so that you are able to teach the public the truth about E15. Best of luck.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bob Greco is group director of downstream and industry operations at the American Petroleum Institute. With 21 years of experience, Bob directs activities related to refining, pipeline, marketing, and fuels issues. He has managed exploration and production activities, policy analysis, climate change issues, marine transportation, refining, gasoline and jet fuel production issues and Clean Air Act implementation efforts. Before coming to API, Bob was an environmental engineer with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with expertise in automotive emission control technologies. He has a M.S. degree in environmental engineering from Cornell University and a B.A. in biology from Colgate University.