What is Ethanol?
Ethanol is a renewable fuel made from various plant materials collectively known as “biomass.” More than 95% of U.S. gasoline contains ethanol in a low-level blend to oxygenate the fuel and reduce air pollution. It is a colorless liquid distilled from agricultural crops – usually corn. Ethanol can be produced not only from corn, barley, and wheat, but also from cellulose feedstocks, such as corn stalks, rice straw, sugar cane bagasse, pulpwood, switchgrass, and municipal solid waste. Most ethanol is produced in the grain-growing states of mid-western U.S., but Virginia has an ethanol plant in Hopewell with a capacity of 65 million gallons of ethanol. This plant uses hull-less barley as a feedstock.
Ethanol: A Scapegoat? Read some fact sheets compiled by the USDA Trade and Biofuel Analysis Division to hear another side of the story the media often ignores.
What Vehicles Can Use Ethanol and How Does it Perform?
From a consumer perspective, there is no noticeable difference in vehicle performance when E10 is used. Because ethanol has lower energy content than gasoline, E85 use will reduce fuel economy. The magnitude of the reduction depends on the vehicle, driving habits and conditions, but 15% is an often-cited average.
All gasoline vehicles are capable of operating on gasoline/ethanol blends with up to 10% ethanol. In fact, some states require the seasonal or year-round use of up to 10% ethanol as an oxygenate additive to gasoline to mitigate ozone formation. These low percentage oxygenate blends are not classified as alternative fuels. We speak of ethanol vehicles as those specifically manufactured to be capable of running on up to 85% denatured ethanol, 15% gasoline (E85), or any mixture of the two up to the 85% ethanol limit. E85 may be seasonally adjusted in colder climates such that the real proportion of E85 is less than 85% ethanol. Vehicles manufactured for E85 use are commonly called flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs).
What are the Benefits of Using Ethanol?
Using E85 reduces petroleum consumption: use of E85 will reduce overall use of petroleum and replace it with renewable-based fuel produced in the U.S.
E85 is better for the environment: E85 offers environmental benefits such as reducing carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter emissions when compared to gas.
Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) are available and affordable: FFVs specifically designed to run on E85 are becoming more common each model year, and FFVs are typically available as standard equipment with little or no incremental cost.
FFVs have flexible fueling options: FFVs may operate on gasoline or E85, and a driver may simply fuel with either fuel as the situation dictates.
E85 is easy to use and handle: E85 fueling equipment is only slightly different and of similar cost, and is similar to petroleum fuel storage and dispensing.
General & Technical Information on E85
- Handbook for Handling, Storing, and Dispensing E85
- Underwriters Laboratory and E85 certification information is available at the National Clean Cities website.
- A checklist for installing or converting equipment for E85.
- How to convert a petroleum (gasoline or diesel) refueling system to E85.
- E85 Fleet Toolkit has information and links to ensure a successful conversion to E85.
Past Clean Cities Ethanol Projects
VA-MD-DC E85 Infrastructure Project
Virginia Clean Cities and Virginia’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy worked with partners to increase public E85 infrastructure in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia through the Department of Energy’s award for alternative fuel infrastructure. Other partners included Maryland’s Energy Administration and the Virginia Regional Environmental Management System. A list of public and restricted access E85 stations in the Va-MD-DC region can be found here.