Memorial Day weekend is the cultural beginning to summertime and boating season. Many are thinking of spending time lakeside, and road trips are finally taking shape. But even with the great news that increased U.S. oil and natural gas production will have summer gasoline prices lower than previous years, ethanol, and more specifically, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), could mean trouble for our favorite tools of summer fun.
Nicole Vasilaros, vice president of federal and legal affairs for National Marine Manufacturers Association, told reporters Wednesday at a joint conference with the American Petroleum Institute (API) that many boaters rely on E0 (ethanol-free) gasoline to power their boats and water craft. However, E0 is not guaranteed to remain available as a result of the RFS and the influx of higher ethanol blends such as E85.
“An inability to find E0 or a simple mis-fueling mistake could cause boaters to see engine stalling, corrosion leading to oil or fuel leaks, increased emissions and damaged valves, rubber fuel lines and gaskets,” Vasilaros stated.
The boating industry is an annual $121 billion empire. In 2014, over one-third (87 million) of all Americans participate in boating at least once. Ninety-five percent of all boats are fueled just like the average cars. So, many of the same ethanol-related issues that have plagued vehicles are being voiced as concerns for boaters as well.
“Fueling is voiding warranties and leaving boaters to face expensive repairs and replacements,” said Vasilaros. “Because the risk of high (ethanol) blends for boaters, many rely on E0.”
Studies like the one issued by the Coordinating Research Council have found that ethanol blends such as E15 may endanger fuel systems in millions of 2001 and newer vehicles. In the past, automobile manufacturers have told Congress that vehicle warranties will not cover damage due to E15. According to the API, the Congressional Budget Office determined that current ethanol mandates could raise the cost of fuel for consumers and damage our economy.
Ethanol trade associations have addressed the most recent conference claiming it was just the most recent attempt from the API to shove oil onto the American public.
“Once again, API and its allies are trying to keep Americans addicted to foreign oil,” said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, in a recent article from Ethanol Producer Magazine. “They are afraid of competition, plain and simple, and are using every possible tactic, whether it be legal, regulatory or through false public relations campaigns designed to fool people to buy into their false narrative to discourage the use of a cleaner, less expensive, homegrown renewable fuel.”
Buis stated that all major manufacturers of outboard and marine motors, as well as small engines, are approved for the use of gasoline blended with up to 10 percent ethanol. Proper maintenance, he claims, is the best preventative measure to engine failure rather than using ethanol-free fuels.
Vasilaros noted that her association has been involved in testing other biofuel blends and has seen some promising results with butanol blends. But, she also stated that the RFS would have to be fixed before some alternative could be available to a widespread market.
“The RFS is not helping other biofuels that don’t have the capability issues of ethanol get to market,” Bob Greco, API downstream group director said at last Wednesday’s conference. “I think there’s desire and research in trying to determine commercially viable alternatives.”
“The law started off with the best of intentions, but the program is now unworkable,” Greco said back in March. “This year we could hit what is called the ethanol blend wall, where the RFS would force more than 10 percent ethanol into each gallon of gas. This is concerning because most cars on the road today cannot tolerate these higher ethanol blends.”
The RFS is a federal program that originated with the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The idea behind the legislation was to require fuel sold for transportation purposes to contain a minimum amount of renewable fuels, usually bio-fuel. The RFS program requires renewable fuel to be blended into transportation fuel in increasing amounts each year. In addition, each renewable fuel category in the program is mandated to emit lower greenhouse gas emissions relative to the petroleum-based product it is replacing.