Bill Would Swap RFS for High-Octane Fuel Standard

GOP legislators propose vehicles and fueling infrastructure for 95-RON gasoline
Photograph: Shutterstock

WASHINGTON -- A new bill under development would shift the United States from meeting biofuel blending quotas under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) to a higher-octane gasoline standard.

On Nov. 21, Republican Reps. John Shimkus of Illinois and Bill Flores of Texas released a discussion draft of the 21st Century Transportation Fuels Act. Beginning with model-year 2023, the bill as currently written would require auto manufacturers to:

  • Warranty vehicles designed to operate with gasoline using up to 20% ethanol, including E15.
  • Design light-duty trucks and vehicles that run on gasoline with a research octane number (RON) of 95 or higher. The Big Three automakers—General Motors (GM), Ford and Fiat Chrysler—have proposed that the United States adopt a 95 RON gasoline standard, which would eventually replace other gasoline grades.
  • Introduce elements that would prevent these vehicles from misfueling with gasoline that has a RON level below 95.

The bill would also require gasoline retailers to install dispensing equipment that is compatible with vehicles that run on 95-RON gasoline that is “technically and economically feasible.” If a gasoline retailer complies the legislation’s design and misfueling requirements, it would not be held liable for damages when a consumer misfuels a model-year 2023 or later light-duty vehicle with gasoline that has a RON of 95 or lower.

“We have learned from robust stakeholder input through hearings, roundtables and meetings, that higher octane fuels can bring increased fuel economy and performance for next generation engines,” said Flores. “Since ethanol is one of the lowest-cost sources of octane in many areas of the country, a transition from the RFS beginning in 2023 to a national octane specification creates new market opportunities for biofuel producers and gives certainty to refining stakeholders. Most importantly, the draft legislation preserves consumer choice and optimum fuel and vehicle costs for more efficient transportation for future decades.”

Retailer Issues

As the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment reviews the draft legislation, several representatives of the biofuel, oil and fuel retail industries have weighed in with statements.

Brian Jennings, CEO of American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE), said the legislation does not explain how the market would get to higher-octane fuel. “Requiring automakers to warranty their vehicles to operate on a minimum 95-RON fuel (about the same as today’s premium) in exchange for effective repeal of the RFS will not improve fuel quality by increasing ethanol use, rather, it is a mechanism to undo the competition-forcing core of the RFS and limit ethanol use to current volumes,” he said. Jennings noted that the draft appears to support E20 blends, but a recent study commissioned by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) found that refiners could meet a 95-RON standard with the industry standard E10.

The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), which represents U.S. refiners, supported the concept of an octane standard, which it says could be “the most cost-efficient and consumer-friendly way to meet emissions targets,” but demanded that its adoption coincide with an RFS sunset.  

In his comments, Timothy Columbus, general counsel for NACS and SIGMA, said the associations do not have a position on the legislation. But, he pointed to some issues in the discussion draft, including:

  • It states any technological solution to prevent misfueling must be “technically and economically feasible,” but does not specify for whom—the auto manufacturers or the retailers. The standard must meet that goal for both parties, the associations believe.
  • The draft says the fuel nozzle that dispenses RON 95 fuel must be a specific diameter, but this could be very costly for automobile manufacturers to build vehicles to meet this size, and those costs would likely be passed on to consumers.
  • While the draft includes misfueling liability protections, it needs to specify that a retailer who meets signage and other misfueling prevention requirements is protected from liability under state, federal and common law over damages from misfueling by the consumer.
  • The associations were especially supportive of the fact that the draft legislation would not automatically require retailers to upgrade their infrastructure to handle RON 95 fuel if they do not choose to sell it.

“Many existing dispenser systems are not certified to handle more than E10 and installing new dispensers is extremely burdensome and costly for retailers,” Columbus said. “Upon enactment of this bill, not all retailers will immediately switch to selling fuel blends over E10, thus, it is important that retailers continue to be able to use their existing equipment until such time as they decide to change their fuel offerings (and upgrade their equipment accordingly).”



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