Resource: E85 and Ethanol Fuels
Title: E85 and Ethanol Fuels
Resource type: Product
Topics: Energy, Individual Choices, Transportation
Keywords: alternative fuels, clean fuel, car pollution, by-products, co-products, byproducts, coproducts
Audience: All
Region: Minnesota Statewide, Outside Minnesota
Summary: Drivers in many parts of Minnesota can lessen their air pollution and other negative impacts through using E85 fuels.
Content: Drivers in many parts of Minnesota now have a simple way to lessen their air pollution and other negative impacts: flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs), designed to run on 100% gasoline, a mix of 15% gasoline and 85% ethanol, or any mixture in between, can purchase E85 fuel. The ethanol in E85 is made from plant-based materials -- mostly corn, but also cheese whey, brewery waste and potato wastes.

E85 contains 85% less of the toxins, sulfur and carcinogens found in conventional gasoline. It reduces smog-forming tailpipe emissions by 25% and greenhouse gas emissions by 35%. E85 has a 100+ octane rating (resulting in a 5%-7% increase in engine horsepower) and can experience a 10-20% drop in fuel economy, depending on the model.

E85 fuel is available at over 300 gas stations statewide. More stations are being added over time. To find a nearby station see http://www.commerce.state.mn.us/ and search for "E85 Station List" - or click directly on http://www.cleanairchoice.org/E85InCounty.asp?State=MN
The MN Department of Commerce web site also links to an E85 vehicle directory at http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/byfueltype.htm

While small 2-stroke engines can use E-85, their warranties are voided by its use. It is relatively easy to convert small engines to operate on E85. The expert on this is Dr. Bruce Jones at Minnesota State University-Mankato (bruce.jones@mnsu.edu or 507/389-6700) who converted three golf-cart vehicles for use in the Coon Rapids Regional Park under the direction of the CREED (Communities for Responsible Energy/Environment) Project (http://www.creedproject.org/).

To sign up for a free e-newsletter put out by the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition, see http://www.e85fuel.com/

See a MN Department of Commerce document on Clean Fuels ( http://www.state.mn.us/mn/externalDocs/Commerce/Clean_Fuels_110802014604_RenewableAFV2003.pdf ) for information on the benefits of ethanol for Minnesota's economy and environment. A more updated document from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) can be accessed at http://www.ffeic.org/assets/File/Ethanol%20Plants%20in%20Minnesota.pdf

This MDA document states that:

- Minnesota produced 550 million gallons of ethanol from 16 plants in 2006. About 260 million gallons were consumed in Minnesota. The state's net ethanol export was 290 million gallons - or 53% of Minnesota's total annual ethanol production.

- At the 550 million-gallon production level in 2006, Minnesota's ethanol industry generated an estimated $2.77 billion in total economic impacts and over 10,321 jobs. The 1-billion gallon production by 2008 is projected to generate a total of $4.95 billion in economic impacts and 18,461 jobs.

As to the question "is more energy used to grow and process the raw material (usually corn) into ethanol than is contained in the ethanol itself?" the answer is no, unless ethanol is shipped a long distance. For detailed studies on the positive "net energy" or energy balance of ethanol see http://journeytoforever.org/ethanol_energy.html

FFVs are produced as standard equipment (same price as gasoline-only vehicles) by Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Isuzu, and Daimler Chrysler. The St. Paul Ford plant produces a FFV, the Ranger pickup. Modifications to make a standard vehicle a FFV cost approximately $300, which translates into a payback period of about 5 years due to the lower price of E85. As of 2004, there were an estimated 100,000 FFVs in MN (see http://www.greencarcongress.com/2004/08/gm_e85_promotio.html). Current FFVs show no standard difference in drivability, engine-wear, or maintenance and repair.

Another issue surrounding E-85 involves crops to use as feedstocks. Most researchers see an eventual shift away from corn crops and to use of waste ag and forest cellulose (see http://www.newrules.org/agri/celluloseethanol.pdf), and to use of crops grown on marginal land with no pesticides.

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Also, exploring the connected issue of to what degree US corn is helping the hungry people of the world (relevant, as corn's use as a fuel source would compete with its use for food), the 1999 report "Feeding the World?" by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy considers issues of to what degree American corn exports benefit undernourished people abroad.

Below are summary points from that report.

* For every one ton of US corn exported in 1996 to one of the 25 countries with the world's most serious malnutrition problems (Category 5 countries, with at least 35 percent of the population undernourished), 260 tons were exported to a wealthy Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country.

* 20 percent of the total US corn crop is exported; two-thirds of these exports go directly to the 28 industrial OECD countries, where it is mostly used for feeding animals.

* 76 percent of the corn used in the US is used for animal feed.

* Less than three-tenths of one percent of total US corn exports went to the poor Category 5 countries in 1996.

* Less than three percent of total US corn exports in 1996 went to the 24 Category 4 countries (where undernourishment affects at least 20 percent of the population).

* More US corn goes to make alcoholic beverages in the US than is exported to feed the hungry in the world's 25 most undernourished countries combined.

* About one-third of the total US soybean crop is exported; 70 percent of US soybean exports went to 28 industrial OECD countries in 1996.

* No soybeans were exported to Category 5 countries in 1996, while 17.8 million metric tons went to OECD countries.

* In 1998, a year of record-low soybean prices, the 25 most undernourished countries received less than 0.027 percent of total US soybean exports.

Suggested by: Paul Moss
Added: 11/2/00
Updated: 07/26/11