To date, the U.S. has integrated ethanol into the market in two ways:
- Low-level blends (what is referred to as E10, which is a 10 percent blend of ethanol with gasoline)
- High-level ethanol blends such as E85. This gasoline/ethanol blend with as much as 85 percent ethanol is primarily used in the Midwest, where most corn-based ethanol is currently produced. As described below, E85 use is limited to specially-designed flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs). For more information on current ethanol use, please visit the Alternative Fuels and Vehicles Data Center.
In the future, intermediate blends of ethanol such as E15 or E20 may be available for use in all vehicles. However, these blends still need to be evaluated before determining their suitability for use in non flexible-fuel vehicles. The Alternative Fuels and Vehicles Data Center has more information about testing intermediate blends.
Flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs) can operate on any blend of ethanol with gasoline up to 85 percent (E85). About seven million FFVs are currently used in the U.S. U.S. auto companies have committed to manufacturer a larger number of these vehicles, in a wider variety of models, to be available at prices competitive with conventional vehicles.
All vehicles manufactured since 1978 can run on E10. Current warranties for conventional vehicles would be voided if the cars were run on levels of ethanol higher than E10.
More information about converting vehicles to run on biofuels can be found at the Alternative Fuels and Vehicles Data Center.
The status of Underwriters Laboratory (UL) testing and progress towards biofuel dispenser certification is constantly changing. For the latest update, go to the UL Web page on information related to the Development of Safety Requirements for E85 Dispensers and Components.
Fuel dispensers currently in use were designed and certified by UL for dispensing gasoline mixtures which could include ethanol blends up to E15. Refueling stations around the country, especially in the mid-west, offered E85 fuels and dispensed them using the same equipment certified for the lower level blended ethanol mixtures. In May 2006, an E85 dispenser manufacturer approached UL with the first request to certify an E85 dispenser.
Recognizing the need to establish safety standards and testing protocols for E85 dispensing systems, UL suspended their official certification listings for individual parts that compose an E85 fuel dispenser in October 2006 and began working with DOE to develop appropriate guidelines for the certification of E85 fuel dispensing equipment. In October 2007, UL published listing procedures for evaluating and certifying E85 equipment: 87A Outline of Investigation for Power-Operated Dispensing Devices for Gasoline/Ethanol Blends with Ethanol Content Greater Than 15%. At present, UL has received dispensers for testing but has not listed dispensing related equipment for use with E85 fuel blends.
The deployment of E85 fuels and dispensing equipment has not been slowed by the UL suspension of fuel dispenser equipment certification in 2006. In fact, most jurisdictions allow alternate equivalent dispenser designs to be submitted for approval. Each jurisdiction has its own process and discretion in granting variances or waivers to approve designs not UL certified. To date, numerous states and organizations have chosen to grant variances/waivers or have produced a written stance on the E85 Underwriter Laboratories Certification requirements, including: Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Oregon, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
A number of codes and standards are needed to facilitate the widespread use of biofuels in the market. Those codes and standards span the entire biofuel pathway from feedstock production to end-use vehicles. The Department of Energy is working in cooperation with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the American Petroleum Institute (API), ASTM International, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and others to develop and revise standards as needed.