On June 5, the U.S. EPA received a patent for an “internal combustion engine adapted to combust alcohol blended fuels” of greater than 20 percent alcohol by volume – essentially an E30 engine – perhaps the Holy Grail of the ethanol industry.
The agency has been pursuing the patent since 2008, with the goal of creating an “internal combustion engine that operates at high efficiency with alcohol fuels [to] improve the potential for alcohol fuels to reduce petroleum consumption. In their patent application, EPA notes that either a 30 percent blend of ethanol or methanol is the “preferred fuel” as “it shows a 10 – 12% increase in efficiency over a comparable gasoline engine.”
A mid-level ethanol blend, such as E30, would reduce petroleum consumption and increase engine efficiency. But a chicken-and-egg problem has beset the issue for years. Which will come first, higher blends, or the engines to use them? While the automotive industry has expressed interest in designing engines compatible with higher octane blends (such as an E30 blend) to enable smaller, more efficient engines, there are currently no models on the market that are specifically designed to utilize a high-octane fuel.
On the fuels side, EPA has been fighting E30 blends for several years because the agency has contended that there are no vehicles capable of utilizing the blends. The auto industry won’t design a car for a fuel that’s on the road, and the EPA won’t certify a fuel that isn’t commercially available. While it’s unlikely that the patent will end the logjam – it is a surprising twist in the road to the next generation of engines.
In 2015, the agency was sued by a coalition of ethanol groups for not including E30 as a certification fuel in air quality tests. The suit was part of efforts to have the agency approve E30 for commercial use. While the suit was thrown out by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for lack of standing, the judge noted that the ethanol “petitioners have standing to challenge the legality of the test fuel regulation.”
For more information see:
- High Efficiency Alcohol Fuel Engine, U.S. Patent
- Ethanol’s Biggest Advocate May Be EPA?, Urban Air Initiative
- Court Dismisses E30 Test Fuel Case, But Decision Could Help Open Door for Mid-Level Blends, EESI