Are you already using a domestically produced alternative fuel in your vehicle? If you live in a major U.S. city, you probably are.
In the United States, one out of every eight gallons of gasoline sold contains ethanol. Most of this ethanol is purchased as blends of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline, known as gasohol or E10, and is used as an octane enhancer to improve air quality.
If you are driving a flexible fuel vehicle, you have the opportunity to fuel with E85, a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. For more information on E10 and other low-level ethanol blends, read on.
Ethanol is a colorless liquid that is distilled from agricultural crops, usually corn. Most ethanol is produced in the grain-growing states of the midwestern United States. The U.S. Department of Energy is also exploring ways to make ethanol from crop wastes like corn stover and switchgrass.
The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 mandated the use of oxygenated gasoline in areas with unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide. At the time, the primary oxygenates were ethanol and MTBE. Subsequently, MTBE has been found to contaminate ground water supplies, and the demand for ethanol has increased significantly. The Renewable Fuels Standard, mandated by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, calls for the gradual escalation of biofuels use in the United States. This legislation should stimulate the use of biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel from 4 billion gallons in 2006 to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012.
Benefits of Ethanol
- Ethanol is domestically produced and allows us to reduce our use of imported petroleum
- Ethanol emits less carbon monoxide than gasoline
- Adding oxygenates like ethanol to gasoline reduces carbon monoxide emissions
- Ethanol production supports U.S. farmers and creates jobs
All auto manufacturers approve the use of low-level ethanol blends. Ethanol blends (10% or less) are successfully used in all types of vehicles and engines that require gasoline. From a consumer perspective, there is no noticeable difference in vehicle performance when low-level ethanol blends are used. Because there is a slight difference in the energy content of ethanol and gasoline, there may be a slight reduction in vehicle fuel economy when using ethanol.
Availability of Ethanol
Fuel ethanol blends are sold in every state, and ethanol blends make up nearly 100% of the gasoline sold in carbon monoxide and ozone nonattainment areas during certain months of the year.
Cost of Ethanol
Although ethanol is more expensive to produce than gasoline, federal tax incentives reduce the price to a competitive level. Ethanol prices tend to vary regionally due to availability and promotional efforts by retailers.