February 10, 2009

Is The Underwriters Laboratory Biased Against Ethanol?

That is the question being asked by the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) in a recent letter from Ron Lamberty, ACE’s Vice President / Market Development, to August Schaefer, UL’s Senior Vice President & Chief Operating Officer.

The Underwriters Laboratory (UL) has made a couple of moves in the last few years that seem to support such a claim. On October 5, 2006 they suspended certification of E85 dispenser even though no safety issues had been reported.

After studying the problem for about a year they issued new requirements on October 16, 2007 for E85 dispensers and began accepting applications for approval. To date no E85 dispenser has received approval. One can only wonder how the lack of UL certified dispensers has slowed the spread of E85 refueling locations but it is fairly well known that Walmart was considering adding pumps at their 300 plus gas stations before certification was pulled.

Now just as the ethanol industry is pushing for ethanol blends higher than 10% to be made legal for use in non flex fuel vehicles, the UL has issued a release saying that current dispensers are only certified for up to 10% ethanol content. This is somewhat odd because a look around their website shows that previously their position had been that dispensers can handle up to 15% ethanol content. Just look at this quote from when they suspended certification on E85 dispensers.

On Oct. 5, 2006, Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) suspended authorization for manufacturers to use UL Markings (Listing or Recognition) on components for fuel-dispensing devices that specifically reference compatibility with alcohol-blended fuels that contain greater than 15 percent alcohol (i.e., ethanol, methanol or other alcohols).

To make matters even worse the UL had this to say in their release.

If new Federal guidelines are established that approve higher ethanol blend levels for public use, UL will review products currently certified under UL 87 to determine whether UL can provide data enabling the authorities having jurisdiction to approve such use.

In other words once the limit is increased we can expect a similar delay in getting new dispensers certified as we have seen with the process the E85 dispensers have gone through. It almost looks like they are trying to slow ethanol's progress.

I have to admit that I have also wondered about the their impartiality because of these things and one other event involving biodiesel. Recently the UL released a statement that B5 biodiesel blends could be used in equipment certified for use with diesel or home heating oil. They really didn't have much of a choice since B5 meets the exact same ASTM specification. To say that B5 couldn't be used under their certification would be to say that the equipment wasn't certified for use with a fuel that it was certified for. So instead they took the opportunity to point out potential issues which they admit are outside of the scope of their standards.

The findings indicated no adverse safety effects. It is acknowledged however that introduction of biodiesel may potentially affect fuel quality, mobilize contaminants in the fuel system, or increase the potential for microbial contamination. These performance issues are outside of the scope of UL standards and certification.

Unless I am reading the signs wrong it looks like The UL has a bias against not only ethanol but biodiesel as well.

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