Though President Donald Trump's administration proposes dialing back corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards, ethanol groups point to the EPA's Thursday request for comment on the role high-octane fuels can play, as reason for hope.
The Obama administration required new cars sold in the United States to average about 54 miles per gallon by 2025. That essentially would have created a huge demand for high-octane fuels, and only ethanol can boost octane without allowing more aromatics in fuels.
The Trump proposal would freeze standards for cars and trucks built after 2020, at an average of 37 miles per gallon by 2026. In addition, the proposed Trump rule would revoke a waiver given to the state of California to set its own standards. California's standards are more robust than EPA's, and are believed to be another potential ethanol market for high-octane fuels in the state.
Ethanol groups are touting the new proposal because the EPA asks for comment on the role of high-octane fuels such as higher blends of ethanol, as a way to meet the goals of the program for model years 2021-2026.
The ethanol industry points to high-octane fuels as a way to expand markets beyond E10 while simultaneously helping to improve gasoline tailpipe emissions with a cleaner-burning fuel.
Ethanol interests have been active in pushing EPA and others to closely consider ethanol's role.
In a news release on Thursday, the American Coalition for Ethanol said it plans to provide written comments requesting the following actions:
-"Establish a minimum octane standard for fuel in the range of 99-100 RON (research octane number) with 25%-30% ethanol and approve a corresponding alternative certification fuel so automakers can begin testing future engines on a high-octane blend."
-"In setting the new minimum octane rating, eliminate the 85 AKI (anti-knock index) standard used in some mountain states because no automaker recommends the use of that substandard fuel in their engines."
-"Level the playing field among alternative fuel vehicle credits and consider a new incentive for future engines designed to achieve optimal efficiency on high octane fuels."
In the proposal, EPA said high-octane fuels could provide manufacturers with "more flexibility to meet more stringent standards by enabling opportunities for use of lower CO2 emitting technologies (e.g., higher compression ratio engines, improved turbocharging, optimized engine combustion)." Part of the request for comment centers on how the agency can "support the production and use of higher-octane gasoline" as part of new emissions standards.
American Coalition for Ethanol Chief Executive Officer Brian Jennings said ethanol has a place even if the Trump administration sets softer standards.
"Some might argue EPA's proposal to flat line the standards will lead to increased gasoline use and tailpipe pollution, but not if the final rule paves the way for E25-E30 high octane fuel in future engines," Jennings said. "Ethanol-enriched, high-octane fuel in the 99-100 RON range would enable automakers to simultaneously reduce GHG emissions and improve fuel economy.
"American-made ethanol is the most affordable way to thread the needle. Ethanol today costs about 70 cents per-gallon less than gasoline at wholesale. High-octane E25-E30 blends would help bring down the cost for consumers compared to the premium-priced octane level advocated by oil refiners.
Renewable Fuels Association Executive Vice President Geoff Cooper said it was time for EPA to consider fuels in the mix.
"For far too long, the CAFE/GHG program has focused only the effects of engine technologies on fuel efficiency and emissions, while failing to recognize the important role that the fuels themselves play in determining efficiency and emissions impacts," he said.
"RFA has relentlessly advocated throughout the midterm evaluation process that the impact of fuel properties on efficiency and emissions must be considered, and we provided detailed information showing that high-octane fuels can provide tremendous benefits. We are pleased to see that EPA's proposal recognizes that high-octane fuels can help enable more efficient engines and reduce GHG emissions, and we believe the agency should use its authority to include high-octane low-carbon fuels as an option available to automakers for meeting more stringent fuel economy and emissions standards in the future."
Todd Neeley can be reached at email@example.com
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