FTC updates ethanol labels, approves infrared testing

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Federal Trade Commission proposed changes to its Fuel Rating Rule today that recognizes a new octane-rating method and revises requirements for blends of gasoline that have more than 10 percent ethanol.

The amendments require that labels for gasoline that includes ethanol state: “Use only in flex-fuel vehicles/may harm other engines.” The labels also must disclose the percentage of ethanol content rounded to the nearest interval of 10. E15, which is approved by Environmental Protection Agency, is exempt from these measures so it doesn’t cause consumer confusion and an unnecessary burden on the industry, according to FTC. Providing different labels for “midlevel” blends and E85 no longer is appropriate, FTC says.The agency now considers all ethanol blends that have more than 10 percent ethanol to be a single category.

FTC says the updated labels help consumers to identify the correct fuel for their vehicles.Gasoline that has too much ethanol can damage the engine of vehicles that lack flex-fuel technology. Consumers Digest warned that ethanol blends threaten to damage hundreds of millions of gasoline-powered machines each year—from lawn and garden equipment to boats and all-terrain vehicles.

Additionally, FTC gave approval to infrared-sensor technology that can be used to measure octane levels in gasoline. Several companies and state regulators that support this infrared method say it delivers quicker and more accurate results than the existing octane-level testing methods, which use octane engines.

Supporters of the infrared technology, including a division of American Chemical Society that’s known as Chemical Abstracts Service, also say this technology decreases the cost to the industry, because portable infrared scanners are more affordable than are stationary octane engines. FTC didn’t say whether lower testing costs would trickle down to consumers, but it did say the use of infrared technology should reduce the risk of inaccurate measurements.

– K. Carlson