NATIONWIDE — More than 18 billion gallons of biofuels will be blended into the American fuel supply in 2016, according to the final volume requirements released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Nov. 30 as part of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program.
The announcement could be bad news for boaters, according to boating advocacy groups, as fuel blends are likely to include a higher percentage of corn ethanol. An increase in ethanol mandates means fuels with E15 — gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol — could be more readily available. Recreational boat engines are not allowed to be filled with E15-blended fuel.
“While the ruling falls short of the worst-case scenario, it still mandates the breaking of the ‘blend wall’ in 2016,” the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) said a statement issued after the EPA announcement. “Due to this ruling, more ethanol, largely in the form of E15, will be required across the country’s fuel supply. This remains problematic for boat owners and marine businesses as these higher blends of ethanol will damage engines, present grave safety concerns and void warranties.”
Groups such as NMMA maintain E0 — pure gasoline with no ethanol blends — is ideal for recreational boating engines.
“NMMA disagrees with the EPA’s continued assertion that E0 is not a major fuel option and contends that anecdotal evidence from marina owners, boaters and other industry personnel proves that E0 remains the preferred fuel choice for recreational marine engines,” the official NMMA statement said. “NMMA and our coalition of supporters remain committed to educating the public on the many dangers of the ethanol mandate.”
The ethanol mandate under the RFS has been opposed by fossil fuel manufacturers and refineries; on the other side are corn growers and environmentalists who favor ethanol mandates.
Groups on both sides of the issue anxiously awaited the EPA’s final rule announcement on Nov. 30, which set biofuel blend mandates for oil companies and refineries for 2014, 2015 and 2016.
The new mandate is higher than many predicted about six months ago but lower than what was forecasted eight years ago; in 2007 Congress reportedly sought the ethanol mandate surpass 22 billion gallons.
“This rule finalizes higher volumes of renewable fuel than the levels EPA proposed in June, boosting renewable production and providing support for robust, achievable growth of the biofuels industry,” EPA staff said in a published statement.
An EPA administrator said the ethanol mandate and RFS program are furthering Pres. Barack Obama’s climate change strategy.
“The biofuel industry is an incredible American success story, and the RFS program has been an important driver of that success — cutting carbon pollution, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and sparking rural economic development,” said Janet McCabe, the acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.
EPA staff added the RFS supports the Obama Administration’s plan to promote clean energy.
Groups such as the NMMA and American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) are undertaking efforts to discover alternative forms of clean energy for recreational boaters.
Earlier this year ABYC and NMMA endorsed biobutanol as the fuel of choice for recreational boaters. The endorsement came after a five-year study evaluating how recreational boat engines performed with BB16, which blends gasoline with 16 percent biobutanol.
Biobutanol, which is also referred to as isobutanol, was found to be safer and more suitable for recreational boat engines than ethanol blends.
Gevo, a biobutanol developer based in Englewood, Colorado, announced a partnership with ValvTect last month to potential distribute BB16 fuel blends to a network of about 700 marinas nationwide.
A Gevo statement said BB16 fuel blends used in recreational boat engines provide “higher energy content than ethanol blends, prevents moisture absorption and phase separation and reduces engine corrosion.”
Engine corrosion and moisture separation are the most common complaints of ethanol fuel blends (especially during idling).
Congress established the RFS in 2005 and requires the EPA to establish annual volume requirements for four biofuel blends — cellulosic biofuel, biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel and renewable fuel. A combination of available data and more than 670,000 public comments helped determine the volume levels for 2014, 2015 and 2016.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy received a letter from 184 members of the House of Representatives last month requesting the agency to revise its ethanol mandates. The representatives worried the EPA’s mandates would breach the “ethanol blend wall,” the maximum level of the corn-based fuel all engines can tolerate. The ethanol blend wall is E10, according to the representatives’ letter.