CRC tests reveal valve seat damage in some vehicles from E15

Engine durability tests by the Coordinating Research Council, which studies the interaction of engines and petroleum products, found leaks from uneven valve seat wear and pittage in two of eight 2001-09 vehicle engines run for 500 hr on a 15% ethanol-85% gasoline fuel blend, the organization supported by the American Petroleum Institute and automobile manufacturers said.

“There are a minimum 5 million engines on the road today with characteristics similar to the ones that failed,” API Pres. Jack N. Gerard told reporters during a May 16 teleconference. “It’s not like we’re talking about prospective application. We’re applying this to the fleet that’s on the road today. We believe our estimate is conservative.”

The test results confirm that the US Environmental Protection Agency prematurely approved E15 for use in 2001 model year or newer cars and light trucks before CRC could complete its tests, added Michael J. Stanton, president of Global Automakers, and Mitch Bainwol, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. “Policy goals are being advanced by putting consumers at risk,” Bainwol suggested. “Now we have material evidence that validates our concern.”

Former CRC Chairman Mike Leister, who also participated in the teleconference, said that stakeholders concerned with potential impacts from mid-ethanol fuel blends discussed the initial design of CRC’s research with EPA and kept the federal environmental regulator updated as the studies progressed. “One of the problems with EPA rushing to a solution was that it knew our research wasn’t complete yet,” he said.

Test specifics

Leister said the test cycle used a standard that original equipment manufacturers use to test their products. It was not designed to duplicate a vehicle’s full life as it is normally driven because that would take 15-20 years, but accelerated the process in a harder manner by running each of the eight engines for 500 hr to approximate 100,000 miles, he explained.

The two engines that had problems were from newer vehicles, he said. “We believe that because of the metallurgy that’s involved, similar vehicles would have the same problems,” Leister said. “We’re concerned with cars that are rolling off assembly lines now. A few manufacturers warranty their cars for E15, but most don’t. Some even have E15 warning labels on the gas caps.”

Gerard said EPA cites US Department of Energy catalyst research to justify its E15 waivers, but added that catalysts are just one part of a vehicle which would come in contact with the fuel blend. “While EPA had once supported comprehensive testing similar to what CRC has been doing, including engine testing, it ignored the CRC test programs,” he said.

API and other organizations sued in 2011 to get EPA to reverse the E15 waivers in a case that’s now before appellate court, he noted. “The test results we’re announcing today should make clear to everyone that our concerns were valid,” Gerard maintained.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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