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A new grade of fuel called E15 is slowly being introduced to the marketplace. It’s a blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline. It has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use in passenger cars from the 2001 model year or later, and it is being promoted in several Corn Belt states where ethanol is a major product.

This may seem like a minor thing because much of today’s gasoline has 10% ethanol added to it now (E10).  Proponents say E15 fuel will help by reducing gas prices even more but there’s a great debate over whether any savings at the pump would be offset by more frequent engine and fuel system repairs.

Why Would Consumers Want E15?

Ethanol is about $1 a gallon cheaper than gasoline. If the full savings were passed along at retail, diluting gasoline with 15 percent ethanol would make the resulting blend about a nickel per gallon cheaper than the E10 blend of regular gasoline. With its 15 percent ethanol content, studies have shown that E15 fuel will reduce gas mileage a tiny amount, not enough to erase the benefit of ethanol’s cheaper price

The Corrosion Question

As the service team at Coffee Chrysler of Douglas, GA, a Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer explained to us, one of the chief complaints by E15 opponents is that ethanol is corrosive to many of the metal, plastic and rubber components used in internal-combustion engines and their fuel systems. Today’s cars have years of design built into them based on E10 gasoline and there are no problems. So the auto industry and other E15 doubters cite fuel system corrosion as one reason more study is needed before the fuel is widely released.

Dueling Studies

In support of E15 fuel, its backers presented the EPA with a study that says there’s no statistical evidence that the new blend is any more harmful to vehicles built after 2000 than is E10. But opponents countered with a study of their own that says several post-2001 engines run on E15 for a substantial amount of time showed substantial damage to fuel pumps and other fuel system components due to the fuel’s corrosiveness.

Other Issues in E15 Fuel Adoption

There also are concerns that many service stations would either have to abandon one grade of fuel they now sell in order to make room for a new E15 grade, or add additional pumps and underground storage tanks. While not a deal-breaker for stations just being built, that could be an expensive proposition for existing stations.

It May Be up to You

Ultimately, acceptance or rejection of fuels with higher ethanol content is going to be up to the consumer. If the biofuels industry can overcome concerns about engine damage and can demonstrate that increasing ethanol content meaningfully reduces the retail price of motor-vehicle fuel, E15 might catch on.

Earthgarage – Greener Car. Fatter Wallet.