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Thursday, October 19, 2006

UL Erects Ethanol Roadblock

Underwriters Laboratories is an organization that tests products and equipment for safety compliance. UL has announced that it is withholding its certification from ethanol fuel pumps because of the unknown durability (and safety) of fuel pump components used to dispense ethanol fuel, given ethanols higher corrosiveness compared to gasoline. Here is the announcement from UL's web site:

As of October 5, 2006, Underwriters Laboratories Inc. has suspended authorization 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% alcohol (i.e. ethanol, methanol or other alcohols). Dispenser components as they relate to use with traditional fuel blends (i.e., blended fuels containing 15% or less alcohols) are unaffected. In all cases, acceptability of fuel dispensers for using alcohol-blended fuels containing greater than 15% alcohol (e.g., E-85) remains at the discretion of the Authority Having Jurisdiction.

Research indicates that the presence of high concentrations of Ethanol or other alcohols within blended fuels makes these fuels significantly more corrosive. This may result in the fuel chemically attacking the materials used in fuel dispenser components, and may ultimately degrade the dispenser’s ability to contain the fuel. While UL has no evidence of field issues related to this application, we are suspending authorization to use the UL Mark on components used in dispensing devices that will dispense any alcohol blended fuels containing over 15% alcohol until updated certification requirements are established and the effected components have been found to comply with them.

This move, according to the Detroit Free Press, has caused two ethanol pumps to be shut down in Columbus Ohio. That's because in many places, fire code requires that fuel pumps carry UL safety certification.

Mark Griffin, president of the Michigan Petroleum Association, which represents 1,500 stores, said state officials were still wrestling with the question of whether the pumps at Michigan's 26 E85 stations still met state standards, and new pumps wouldn't be available until UL clears up the confusion, which "could be a matter of weeks. It could be months or years."

"Somebody asked whether this thing is heading toward a train wreck," Griffin said. "Well, I don't know."

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