On July 14, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a petition from the Energy Future Coalition and other biofuel interests to review an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation requiring test fuels to be “commercially available.” When automakers certify their vehicles for fuel efficiency and emissions compliance, they use several different types of test fuels. Federal law prohibits the sale of fuels which are not “substantially similar” to these test fuels, effectively shutting new fuels out of the market if they are not allowed to serve as a test fuel. The biofuel groups were hoping to push EPA to allow automakers to certify vehicles with a mid-level ethanol blend such as E30, which is not yet commercially available. The American Petroleum Institute supported EPA in opposing the petition. While the Court denied the petition, it did offer some signs of hope for the use of non-commercial test fuels in the future, and EPA itself provided some concessions during arguments.
The Circuit Court’s decision stated that if EPA allowed the use of E30 as a test fuel, there would be “substantial reason to think that at least some vehicle manufacturers would use it.” In addition, the Court cited a comment from Ford Motor Company that a mid-level ethanol blend such as E30 would “enable the first steps to the development of a new generation of highly efficient internal combustion engine vehicles.” Other auto manufacturers, namely Mercedes and General Motors, have also commented on the potential co-optimization of highly efficient engines with a mid-level ethanol blend.
EPA also conceded that if vehicle manufacturers petitioned for an alternative test fuel, it would consider allowing them to use the fuel even if it was not “readily available nationwide.” EPA noted that its requirement that a fuel be commercially available was discretionary, and that they would consider its revision. During oral arguments, EPA added that the general practice of the agency has been to consider a fuel as commercially available if it will be so at some point in the future, and that it will consider new test fuels based on whether they are “going to be available on the market.”
Urban Air Initiative (UAI) technical director Steve VanderGriend commented, “At the heart of this issue is the fact that the EPA is already failing to meet its own requirements by using test fuels that are not commercially available,” as the fuels consumers fill their tanks with across the country are “significantly different” from the test fuels used by EPA in vehicle certification. VanderGriend added, “We know E30 can provide significant health, environmental, and performance benefits, yet the EPA continues to block market access.”
Going forward, fuel and engine efficiency will be critical pieces in reducing the carbon intensity of the transportation sector. Using higher blends of ethanol as a high-octane fuel can achieve significant carbon dioxide reductions in the near-term as well as enabling the use of highly efficient engines going forward.
Author: Laura Small
Editor: John-Michael Cross
For more information see:
Court Ruling Disappointing, But Leaves Door Open for Mid Level Ethanol Blends, Urban Air Initiative