E15 Acceptance Grows

Analysis Points to Expanding Market for Higher Ethanol Blend

A new analysis from the Renewable Fuels Association shows automakers increasingly are allowing the use of E15 and higher ethanol blends in their cars without voiding warranties (DTN file photo by Chris Clayton)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Oil industry interests have fought tooth and nail to scale back Renewable Fuel Standard volumes based on a claim that gasoline retailers and others cannot sell higher ethanol blends due to a lack of infrastructure. But a new analysis from the Renewable Fuels Association shows automakers increasingly are allowing the use of E15 and higher ethanol blends in their cars without voiding warranties.

Expanding the use of ethanol blends beyond the current E10, or 10% ethanol market is seen as critical by the ethanol industry to meet the future mandates set out in the RFS. The original law calls for the blending of 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022, with some 22 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol and other advanced biofuels.

Perhaps the only way a commercial cellulosic ethanol industry will be viable, however, is if automakers and gasoline blenders sell and allow the use of higher ethanol blends.

The RFS analysis released Monday is based on a review of 2016 model year warranty statements and owners' manuals, which found an increasing acceptance of E15 or up to 15% ethanol blend, with automakers acknowledging the fuel is safe for their cars.

RFS said it found auto manufacturers "explicitly approve" E15 use in more than 70% of new vehicles. The percentage of vehicles approved for E15 use has increased from about 60% in 2015.

For the first time, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles approved the use of E15 in its 2016 Chrysler/Fiat, Jeep, Dodge and Ram vehicles.

"FCA's decision means it joins the other members of the 'Detroit three' (General Motors and Ford) in unequivocally allowing E15," RFA said in a news release Monday.

The RFA analysis said General Motors started approving E15 use with its 2012 vehicles, while Ford joined a year later. RFA said more than 45% of the vehicles sold in the United States this year have been produced by the Detroit three, according to industry data.

In addition, other automakers offering explicit approval of E15 in 2016 vehicles include Toyota/Lexus, Audi/Porsche/Volkswagen, Honda/Acura, Jaguar and Land Rover. Along with the Detroit three, these manufactures have produced about 72% of the vehicles sold in 2015.

When so-called flexible-fuel vehicles produced by Nissan and Mercedes-Benz are included in the mix, RFA said the percentage of 2016 automobiles explicitly approved to use E15 is even larger.

RFA said although Nissan Motor Company has an 8.5% share of the overall market in the United States, the company remains "the largest hold-out when it comes to approving the use of E15 in its vehicles.

"Nissan even goes as far as suggesting that 'E15 fuel will adversely affect the emission control devices and systems of the vehicle,'" RFA said in its analysis, "which raises questions about why Nissan is not able to provide the same quality of technology as automakers approving the use of E15."

RFA said Hyundai, Kia and Subaru continue to exclude E15 from their fuel recommendations. The three foreign automakers account for about 11% of auto sales in the United States. RFA said although Subaru recommends gasoline used in its vehicles contain no more than 10% ethanol, it allows the use of gasoline containing 15% methyl tertiary-butyl ether, or MTBE. MTBE was banned in dozens of states because of groundwater pollution concerns.

Conversely, RFA found that BMW's Mini-Hardtop appears to allow the use of 25% ethanol blends.

"This analysis should open some eyes and finally lay to rest the ridiculous myth that automakers do not allow the use of E15 in their vehicles," said Bob Dinneen, RFA president and chief executive officer. "In fact, 2016 will be the fifth year in a row in which some auto manufacturers have explicitly included E15 in owners' manuals and warranty statements as an approved fuel."

RFA said while automakers began approving E15 use in their vehicles in 2012, testing by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows E15 use is safe in all vehicles built since 2001. EPA also issued waivers in 2010 and 2011, effectively approving E15 use in all vehicles built since 2001 -- or more than 85% of the current total U.S. vehicle fleet.

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

FollowTodd on Twitter @ToddNeeleyDTN