EPA proposes making ethanol easier to use in cleaner-burning fuel

On June 30th the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to make it easier for oil refiners to use ethanol in reformulated gasoline. RFG is a cleaner-burning petrol that is widely used across the States. It is mandatory to use it in nine US cities with particularly bad air pollution.


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Arising from the 1990 Clean Air Act (Act), the RFG program is compulsory in Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, Houston, Milwaukee, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Hartford, and New York City, which all have smog and ozone pollution problems. Other areas with ozone levels exceeding the public health standard have voluntarily chosen to use RFG.

The primary goal of the reformulated gasoline program is to protect health by reducing vehicle emissions of pollutants. Reformulated gasoline produces 15 to 17 per cent less pollution than conventional petrol.

The RFG regulations were developed in negotiation with industry, federal and state governments, and environmental and consumer groups They require gasoline to be ‘reformulated’ to reduce vehicle emissions of ozone-forming and toxic air pollutants. This results in cleaner burning fuel with no detriment to vehicle performance.

Federal legislation requires reformulated gasoline to contain two per cent oxygen by weight. Either MTBE or ethanol are used to meet this requirement. If petrol containing MTBE leaks or is spilled into the environment, it can enter the groundwater and make water supplies undrinkable. The Administration want to reduce or eliminate the use of MTBE by increasing consumption of ethanol based RFG.

Under existing regulations, producing RFG with ethanol to meet pollution reduction standards, means reducing the evaporative property of gasoline, since ethanol makes gasoline evaporate more readily, which leads to an increase in air pollution.

EPA’s proposed adjustment allows refiners to slightly increase the evaporative property of gasoline in exchange for the carbon-monoxide reductions derived from using ethanol. This adjustment will maintain the overall air quality benefits of the program.

Specifically, today’s proposal makes it easier for refiners to blend ethanol in cleaner-burning gasoline by recognising that the use of ethanol, more than other oxygenates, reduces the air pollutant carbon monoxide from the tailpipe.

There is a 60 day comment period for comments on the proposals.

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