It appears EPA is going to look at the issue of raising octane in gasoline after it implements fuel economy standards for the years 2022-2025, according to a report in Automotive News. Some automakers have argued for raising octane so that they can increase the compression ratio of engines and power output, which allows a reduction in engine size and consequently, vehicle weight.
During a meeting organized by the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) several weeks ago, EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality (OTAQ) Director Chris Grundler said in a Q&A session, “After 2025, we should talk about what the future fuels should look like and what is the optimum mix of vehicle and fuel technologies. It is not as simple as the automakers might think it is under the law, and we have to follow the law. We have had requests to regulate octane for many years.”
The article noted that after the current set of fuel economy standards are fully phased in, it could be easier for the EPA to make its case for higher octane gasoline and will “very likely have the powerful California Air Resources Board on its side,” with a CARB representative noting to Automotive News, “[Octane] will have to be part of the conversation…I think it has to be on the table.”
Once the fuel economy standards are phased in, it may indeed be easier to make the case. Section 211(c)(1) of the Clean Air Act permits the EPA to regulate fuels if (1) such fuel “causes, or contributes, to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger the public health or welfare” or (2) if “emission products of such fuel or fuel additive will impair to a significant degree the performance of any emission control device or system which is in general use, or which the Administrator finds has been developed to a point where in a reasonable time it would be in general use were such regulation to be promulgated.”
Now that GHGs are legally considered a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, it can be argued that higher octane is needed to reduce GHGs (and fuels with lower octane contribute to the formation of GHGs which endanger public health and welfare). Moreover, lower octane would impair the performance of vehicles that need higher octane fuel to meet fuel economy standards. It’s not a slam dunk and a scientific, legal and economic case is going to need to be made, but the stage has been set.