Illinois E85 Growth Slows Amid Safety Concerns

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Illinois E85 Growth Slows Amid Safety Concerns

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Growth in the number of service stations and c-stores selling E85 in Illinois has slowed to almost a stop, while questions of safety and legal liability for pumping the alternative fuel are resolved, The Macomb-Journal reported.

Illinois remains among the top E85 markets in the nation, with approximately 140 stations selling the blend of 85-percent ethanol and 15-percent gasoline. But supporters say the pace of added E85 pumps is not likely to pick up until new safety guidelines for stations that sell the fuel are issued later this year, according to the newspaper.

"The number really has been flat the past year," said Richard Breckenridge, agricultural and rural affairs adviser for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

Underwriters Laboratories last fall suspended use of its "UL" safety certification for pumps nationwide that dispense fuel containing more than 15-percent alcohol, including corn-based ethanol. The nonprofit research group, which awards the "UL" safety seal to a variety of consumer products based on extensive testing, was concerned that alcohol-based fuels could corrode traditional fuel dispensers.

No incidents have been reported at the nearly 1,200 E85 stations nationwide, but the lack of the "UL" seal raises legal issues for convenience store and service-station owners, Breckenridge told The Macomb-Journal.

"It becomes a liability issue. If you incorporate an E85 pump into your station and it's not certified by UL, and something happens, you could be liable," he said. "There's no concern for public safety given the history of this. But we experienced the same issue in the auto industry when we saw the use of alcohol fuels coming into the system. It wears more on gaskets or lines, and the issues with the pumps can be the same thing."

John Drengenberg, one of the engineers working on the E85 standards for Underwriters Laboratories, said E85 research is a priority for the organization and standards should be ready by the end of the year, the report said.

The deputy director of the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition, based in Jefferson City, Mo., said the pace of new E85 stations nationwide also has slowed as a result of the safety issue, but she said the group is confident there is a great deal of pent-up demand for the alternative fuel once the new safety standards are approved.

"There are some major retailers who want to put it in many of their facilities," Michelle Kautz said. "We're working very closely with this (Underwriters Laboratories). It's growing a little bit, but not as much as it should or could."