Ethanol Benefits and Considerations
Ethanol is a renewable, domestically produced transportation fuel. Whether used in low-level blends, such as E10 (10% ethanol, 90% gasoline), or in E85 (a gasoline-ethanol blend containing 51% to 83% ethanol, depending on geography and season), ethanol helps reduce imported oil and greenhouse gas emissions. Like any alternative fuel, there are some considerations to take into account when contemplating the use of ethanol.
In 2012, the United States imported about 40% of the petroleum it consumed, and transportation was responsible for nearly three-quarters of total U.S. petroleum consumption. Depending heavily on foreign petroleum supplies puts the United States at risk for trade deficits, supply disruption, and price changes. The Renewable Fuels Association's 2013 Ethanol Industry Outlook calculated that, from 2005 through 2012, ethanol increased from 1% to 10% of gasoline supply.
Fuel Economy and Performance
A gallon of ethanol contains less energy than a gallon of gasoline. The result is lower fuel economy than a gallon of gasoline. The amount of energy difference varies depending on the blend. For example, E85 has about 27% less energy per gallon than gasoline (mileage penalty lessens as ethanol content decreases). However, because ethanol is a high-octane fuel, it offers increased vehicle power and performance.
Estimated Economic Impact of the U.S. Ethanol Industry
Ethanol production creates jobs in rural areas where employment opportunities are needed. According to the Renewable Fuels Association, ethanol production in 2012 added more than 365,000 jobs across the country, $40.6 billion to the gross domestic product, and $28.9 billion in household income. (See Estimated Economic Impact of the U.S. Ethanol Industry and Number and Production Capacity of Farmer- and Non-Farmer Owned Ethanol Plants.)
The carbon dioxide released when ethanol is burned is balanced by the carbon dioxide captured when the crops are grown to make ethanol. This differs from petroleum, which is made from plants that grew millions of years ago. On a life cycle analysis basis, corn-based ethanol production and use reduces greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by up to 52% compared to gasoline production and use. Cellulosic ethanol use could reduce GHGs by as much as 86%.
Equipment and Availability
More than 95% of the gasoline sold in the United States contains low levels of ethanol. Low-level blends require no special fueling equipment, and they can be used in any conventional gasoline vehicle.
The equipment used to store and dispense ethanol blends above E10 is the same equipment used for gasoline with modifications to some materials. All equipment used in the handling, storing, and dispensing of these blends must be designed specifically for such use. See the Handbook for Handling, Storing, and Dispensing E85 and Other Ethanol-Gasoline Blends for detailed information on compatible equipment.
FFVs (which can operate on E85, gasoline, or any blend of the two) are available nationwide as standard equipment with no incremental costs, making them an affordable alternative fuel vehicle option. However, because most U.S. ethanol plants are concentrated in the Midwest, fueling stations offering E85 are predominately located in that region. Find E85 fueling stations in your area.