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RFA to House Subcommittee: Ethanol’s High Octane, Low Carbon a Recipe for Future Fuels

April 12, 2018


WASHINGTON —  As the cleanest and most affordable source of octane on the world market, ethanol is perfectly suited to serve as the key ingredient in future high-octane low carbon fuels, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) told members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on the Environment today. The subcommittee holds a hearing Friday on "High Octane Fuels and High Efficiency Vehicles: Challenges and Opportunities." "Ethanol can play a pivotal role in enabling low-cost advanced vehicle technologies that will improve fuel economy and significantly reduce emissions of harmful tailpipe pollutants and greenhouse gases (GHG)," RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen told the subcommittee in written comments ahead of Friday's hearing. "Not only is ethanol a renewable fuel that offers superior GHG performance, but it also is lower cost than other octane sources, possesses an extremely high octane rating (109 RON), a high heat of vaporization, and high octane sensitivity." Some oil industry advocates like the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), who will testify before the subcommittee on Friday, support moving to a higher-octane standard, but only to the degree the standard can be met with petroleum. That does nothing to help automakers meet increasingly stringent fuel economy standards, nor does it help the rural economy and America's farmers, who are struggling to survive in a market challenged by uncertainty in export markets and demand destructing policies here at home. Commenting on the position likely to be presented by witnesses for the oil industry tomorrow, Dinneen said, "It will be a typical bait-and-switch from the refiners. They say a 95-RON standard could be good for biofuel producers, while also maintaining refiners could meet such a standard with current refining assets and not an additional drop of ethanol."  The oil industry has readily admitted that using refinery processes and aromatic hydrocarbons to increase the octane rating of gasoline would result in higher refinery CO2 emissions, undermining the very purpose of vehicular GHG standards. "This stance taken by the oil industry underscores precisely why we need the RFS in the first place—left to their own devices, refiners would meet a new octane standard not by increasing the use of low-cost, low-carbon ethanol, but by cramming more dirty and costly aromatic hydrocarbons into our gasoline. The health and environmental consequences of that would be disastrous," added Dinneen. Indeed, RFA's comments to the subcommittee point out that "increasing gasoline octane should not come at the expense of air quality, carbon emissions, or human health." As Dinneen told the subcommittee, "the transition to higher octane fuels must be accompanied by requirements that octane sources improve air quality, reduce carbon emissions, and protect public health. Without such protections, there is the potential that increasing gasoline octane could result in unnecessary backsliding on criteria air pollutants, air toxics, and other harmful emissions linked to certain high-octane hydrocarbons. When it comes to air quality and human health, not all octane sources are created equal." RFA also called into question whether 95 RON is a high enough octane rating to deliver the engine efficiency gains and emissions reductions sought by automakers. For example, Dan Nicholson, a General Motors executive who is testifying at the Friday hearing, has previously stated, "Higher octane is necessary for better engine efficiency...100 RON fuel is the right fuel for the 2020-2025 timeframe." To view RFA's full testimony, click here.