Intelligent Energy

E15 fuel makes its U.S. debut

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E15, fuel blended with 5 percent more ethanol than the current standard, has come to market. Why its limited debut matters to the industry and drivers.

E15, a fuel blend that contains five percent more ethanol than the current U.S. standard, will finally be available to consumers. That is, if they happen to be driving a late-model car along route 10 through Lawrence, Kansas.

The Zarco 66 Oasis station in Lawrence, Kansas will be the first retailer in the U.S. to sell E15, according to the Renewable Fuels Association. Plans are in the works to offer E15 at a second retail station in Ottawa, Kansas.

E15's limited debut might seem immaterial. However, the fuel's appearance anywhere in the U.S., even a relatively small town in middle America, is significant for the ethanol industry, which is grappling with a supply glut due to low demand. The industry, which has been forced to cut production and idle plants as corn prices skyrocket and gasoline consumption falls, has hoped higher fuel blends (once its rolled out on a larger scale) will drive up demand.

E15, and ethanol in general, continues to be controversial. Earlier this week, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Energy and Power questioned the viability of the ethanol fuel blend, the Hill reported.

E15 has critics beyond the Beltway as well. The fuel can damage small engines such as, those found in lawn mowers and chain saws. And automakers have warned that warranties will not cover damage to engines caused by the fuel blend.

The EPA first declared in October 2010 that gasoline retailers could sell fuel blends that contained up to 15 percent ethanol for use in cars made since 2007 and in newer light-duty vehicles. The federal agency approved a second waiver in January 2011 that extended E15 for use in cars made between 2001 and 2007. Last month, the EPA issued a final approval that allows the fuel to come to market. E15 producers and retailers have to register with the EPA and adhere to a misfueling mitigation plan developed by the RFA to qualify for the waiver program.

Photo: EPA

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Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure