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MTBE

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

MTBE
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Wikipedia: Methyl tert-butyl ether

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History
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An additive to gasoline used to increase knock resistance.

History

The following section is an excerpt from Wikipedia's Methyl tert-butyl ether page on 8 September 2020, text available via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), also known as tert-butyl methyl ether, is an organic compound with a structural formula (CH3)3COCH3. MTBE is a volatile, flammable, and colorless liquid that is sparingly soluble in water. Primarily used as a fuel additive, MTBE is blended into gasoline to increase knock resistance and reduce unwanted emissions. However, due to groundwater contamination concerns and its offensive taste and smell, MTBE was banned in several U.S. states and gradually phased out of the country. Other countries that have banned MTBE include Japan and Canada, but its use has continued unhindered in much of the rest of the world, with China being its largest market.

MTBE is manufactured via the chemical reaction of methanol and isobutylene. Methanol is primarily derived from natural gas, where steam reforming converts the various light hydrocarbons in natural gas (primarily methane) into carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The resulting gases then further react in the presence of a catalyst to form methanol. Isobutylene can be produced through a variety of methods. One such method is via the isomerization of n-butane into isobutane, which then undergoes dehydrogenation to form the desired product.

MTBE production in the U.S. peaked in 1999 at 260,000 barrels per day before dropping down to about 50,000 barrels per day and holding steady, mostly for the export market. After the purchase of SABIC, oil giant Saudi Aramco is now considered to be the world's largest producer with an estimated production capacity of 2.37 million metric tons per year (mt/yr). Worldwide production capacity of MTBE in 2018 was estimated to be 35 million metric tons.

MTBE is used as a fuel component in fuel for gasoline engines. It is one of a group of chemicals commonly known as oxygenates because they raise the oxygen content of gasoline.

In the U.S. it has been used in gasoline at low levels since 1979, replacing tetraethyllead (TEL) as an antiknock (octane rating) additive to prevent engine knocking. Oxygenates also help gasoline burn more completely, reducing tailpipe emissions and dilute or displace gasoline components such as aromatics (e.g., benzene). Before the introduction of other oxygenates and octane enhancers, refiners chose MTBE for its blending characteristics and low cost.


Documents

DateDocument Name & DetailsDocuments
9 December 1997
hearing date
Water Pollution Risks of Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE)
Hearing Before the Committee on Environment and Public Works
U.S. Senate

PDF
- 1.1MB - 198 pages
16 September 1998
hearing date
Use of Methyl Tertiary-Butyl Ether (MTBE) in Gasoline
Hearing Before the Committee on Environment and Public Works
U.S. Senate

PDF
- 521KB - 131 pages
5 October 1999
hearing date
Blue Ribbon Panel Findings on MTBE
Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Clean Air, Wetlands, Private Property, and Nuclear Safety of the Committee on Environment and Public Works
U.S. Senate

PDF
- 871KB - 181 pages
11 April 2000
hearing date
The MTBE Crisis and the Future of Renewable Fuels
Hearing Before the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry
U.S. Senate

PDF
- 5.6MB - 194 pages
18 April 2000
hearing date
MTBE Crisis and the Future of Biofuels
Hearing Before the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; Subcommittee on Research, Nutrition and General Legislation
U.S. Senate

PDF
- 4.4MB - 148 pages
1 November 2001
hearing date
Issues Concerning the Use of MTBE in Reformulated Gasoline
Legislative Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on Energy and Commerce
U.S. House of Representatives

PDF
- 441KB - 85 pages
21 May 2002
hearing date
MTBE Contamination in Groundwater: Identifying and Addressing the Problem
Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials of the Committee on Energy and Commerce
U.S. House of Representatives

PDF
- 424KB - 82 pages
2 July 2003
hearing date
California Gasoline Markets: From MTBE to Ethanol
Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs of the Committee on Government Reform
U.S. House of Representatives

PDF
- 7.0MB - 200 pages
29 March 2006
hearing date
The Impact of the Elimination of MTBE
Hearing Before the Committee on Environment and Public Works
U.S. Senate

PDF
- 3.8MB - 131 pages


Article Index

DateArticleAuthor/Source
20 March 2000Fuel Additive MTBECarol M. Browner


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