Study: Your Car Can Run On 20% Ethanol

  • Published on March 6th, 2008 by
 

biofuel pumpA University of Minnesota study found that using higher blends of ethanol (20%) blended into gasoline did not cause damage or cause performance problems when used in standard gasoline engines.

Over half the gasoline sold in the US is already blended with 10% ethanol (E10), but higher blends were thought to run the risk of causing engine damage. Higher blends of ethanol, up to 85% (E85), will only work properly in engines converted to accept the fuel.

Using 40 pairs of vehicles commonly found on American roads, a year-long research effort found that increasing ethanol blends from 10 percent (E10) to 20 percent (E20) in a gallon of gasoline provided an effective fuel across a range of tests focusing on driveability and materials compatibility.





“Using homegrown renewable fuel is an important part of Americanizing our energy future and unhooking our country from foreign sources of oil,” Governor Tim Pawlenty said. “This study shows that we can safely increase the amount of ethanol blended with gasoline for use in today’s vehicles. We’re proud that Minnesota is helping lead the nation to a cleaner, more secure energy future and we’re hopeful that other states will continue to join with us in this effort.”

As Governor Pawlenty highlights, some groups have been frustrated by the slow growth of Flex-Fuel (E85 compatible) vehicles and infrastructure, not to mention the potential problem when the 15 billion gallon per year ethanol mandate (from the new Renewable Fuels Standard) is met: E10 blending might not be able to handle that much ethanol, and increases in E85 use might not make up the difference (Andrew Karsner of the DOE said it would take 100 years at current growth rates for infrastructure to get anywhere). Other state programs, like Minnesota’s target of replacing 20% of liquid fuel by with renewables by 2013, has also served to spearhead efforts to approve higher ethanol blends.

Since companies like General Motors have heavily invested in the development of Flex-Fuel vehicles, it’s clear they’d rather see a transition to new E85 compatible cars and trucks. This comes from an article in Ethanol Producer Magazine dated last July:

The idea of implementing a new mid-level ethanol fuel doesn’t appeal to everyone, especially the auto manufacturers. “We absolutely guarantee the destruction of the engine and the fuel injection system if we go the E20 route,” General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz told the Detroit Free Press. “It will not work.” Ellen Shapiro, director of automobile fuels for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, says that while her group is entirely supportive of the growth and development of the ethanol industry and increasing the use of ethanol as a transportation fuel, there are many design-related issues that have to be investigated before E20 is widely used. “The issue with mid-level blends is that conventional vehicles are not designed to handle it, and we produce flexible-fuel vehicles that are,” Shapiro says.

While the University of Minnesota study may have come to the opposite conclusion, the emissions testing for E20 is ongoing, and the fuel still has to be recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency and Clean Air Act standards.

Related Posts:

Ethanol Industry: Jobs Are Better Than Food?

Ethanol Industry Pays Off Subsidies, Boosts U.S. Economy (Bigtime)

GM Announces Biofuel Partnership: Cheap, Green Ethanol?

GM’s Grand Plan For Solving America’s Oil Dependence

Sources:

Minn. Dept. Agr. (Mar 5, 08): E20 blend passes compatibility, performance tests

Ethanol Producer Magazine (July 2007): Concentrating on Consumption

Photo Credit





About the Author

In a past life, Clayton was a professional blogger and editor of Gas 2.0, Important Media’s blog covering the future of sustainable transportation. He was also the Managing Editor for GO Media, the predecessor to Important Media.

  • Lindsay Scholle

    This ethanol fad is extremely environmentally damaging (especially in countries like Brazil), and socially damaging too.

    The Washington Post reported this year that the USA will drastically reduce emergency food aid to some of the poorest countries due to soaring food prices. Grains grown for US ethanol production are directly behind these increased prices. Ethanol at 10% or 20% is not sustainable, it’s not efficient and it’s not a long term solution to the oil dependency/environmental impact of petrol cars.

    Personally I believe that the way to go is plug-in electrics, charged using off-peak power, with responsible (read “legally regulated”) battery production and recycling.

  • Lindsay Scholle

    This ethanol fad is extremely environmentally damaging (especially in countries like Brazil), and socially damaging too.

    The Washington Post reported this year that the USA will drastically reduce emergency food aid to some of the poorest countries due to soaring food prices. Grains grown for US ethanol production are directly behind these increased prices. Ethanol at 10% or 20% is not sustainable, it’s not efficient and it’s not a long term solution to the oil dependency/environmental impact of petrol cars.

    Personally I believe that the way to go is plug-in electrics, charged using off-peak power, with responsible (read “legally regulated”) battery production and recycling.

  • I couldn’t agree with you more. The only potential ethanol has to be a sustainable fuel source is through non-food, cellulosic feedstocks.

  • I couldn’t agree with you more. The only potential ethanol has to be a sustainable fuel source is through non-food, cellulosic feedstocks.

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  • Making ethanol from corn kernels is antique technology of course. It’s going to be gradually phased out as:

    1.) More cellulosic ethanol (CE) production facilities are constructed

    and

    2.) Marginal and poor soil areas are identified for use as biomass-only plantations. Those plantations would be sown with non-edible native species that will grow and produce significant biomass in ground not suitable for food production. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans) are two examples of species that will grow in poor soil in the midwest, and there are several others more suited to specific conditions in other areas of the country. Honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) and various Sagebrush (genus Salvia) that coppice well and thrive in the arid soil and extremely hot climate of the desert southwest and west for a couple other examples.

    Naturally, in a perfect world and with state and federal governments that display some common sense and foresight (not usually the case) cellulosic ethanol is the fuel of today and the future.

    However, to keep things in perspective:

    Total U.S. Corn Production:

    ~10% used for direct human consumption

    ~90% used for livestock feed

    Of the total U.S. corn crop, 10% is fed directly to humans (sweet corn). 90% is fed to livestock (field corn). So cattle, pigs and chickens are responsible for the overwhelming majority of the corn consumption in the USA. Ethanol is made from field corn, which is animal feed. If anyone is going hungry due to lack of corn in his or her diet that problem is easily solved. There’s plenty of field corn out there that’s being fed to livestock. It’s not as tasty and palatable as sweet corn, but it’s perfectly edible.

    A few interesting refs below:

    “We grow animal feed, not human food in the United States,” [Dr Bruce] Dale said. “We could feed the country’s population with 25 million acres of crop land, and we currently have 500 million acres. Most of our agricultural land is being used to grow animal feed.”

    http://www.physorg.com/news94224070.html

    “Ethanol production has been linked to a rise in the price of everything from tortillas to gummi bears. Unfortunately, this argument is very nearly ridiculous. The fact is that very little U.S. corn (about 10 percent) is fed directly to people; most of it is fed to animals.” — Dr Bruce Dale, Professor of Chemical Engineering, Michigan State University

    http://www.nj.com/opinion/times/editorials/index.ssf?/base/news-0/120737075044810.xml&coll=5

    CV and Contact Page for Dr Dale:

    http://www.chems.msu.edu/php/faculty.php?user=bdale

    * * * * * * * *

    ==> Diets are changing radically in nations such as China, India, Brazil and Russia, where economic growth has boosted meat consumption. In China, it is up by 150 per cent since 1980. In India, it has risen by 40 per cent in the past 15 years. The demand for meat from across all developing countries has doubled since 1980.

    ==> Because cattle and chickens are fed on corn — it takes 8kg of grain to produce 1kg of beef — the price has risen.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/the-other-global-crisis-rush-to-biofuels-is-driving-up-price-of-food-808138.html

    * * * * * * * *

    Startup Says It Can Make Ethanol for $1 a Gallon, and Without Corn

    24 January 2008

    A biofuel startup in Illinois can make ethanol from just about anything organic for less than $1 per gallon, and it wouldn’t interfere with food supplies, company officials said.

    ….May Wu, an environmental scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, says Coskata’s ethanol produces 84 percent less greenhouse gas than fossil fuel even after accounting for the energy needed to produce and transport the feedstock. It also generates 7.7 times more energy than is required to produce it. Corn ethanol typically generates 1.3 times more energy than is used producing it.

    http://www.wired.com/cars/energy/news/2008/01/ethanol23

    * * * * * * * *

    New Method Rapidly Produces Low-Cost Biofuels from Wood, Grass

    Wed 09 Apr 2008

    George Huber of the University of Massachusetts Amherst….is making biofuels from cellulose, the non-edible portion of plant biomass and a major component of grasses and wood. At $10 to $30 per barrel of oil energy equivalent, cellulosic biomass is significantly cheaper than crude oil. The U.S. could potentially produce 1.3 billion dry tons of cellulosic biomass per year, which has the energy content of four billion barrels of crude oil. That’s more than half of the seven billion barrels of crude oil consumed in our country each year. What’s more, biomass as an energy crop could increase the national farm income by $3 to $6 billion per year.

    http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/539563/?sc=rssn

  • Making ethanol from corn kernels is antique technology of course. It’s going to be gradually phased out as:

    1.) More cellulosic ethanol (CE) production facilities are constructed

    and

    2.) Marginal and poor soil areas are identified for use as biomass-only plantations. Those plantations would be sown with non-edible native species that will grow and produce significant biomass in ground not suitable for food production. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans) are two examples of species that will grow in poor soil in the midwest, and there are several others more suited to specific conditions in other areas of the country. Honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) and various Sagebrush (genus Salvia) that coppice well and thrive in the arid soil and extremely hot climate of the desert southwest and west for a couple other examples.

    Naturally, in a perfect world and with state and federal governments that display some common sense and foresight (not usually the case) cellulosic ethanol is the fuel of today and the future.

    However, to keep things in perspective:

    Total U.S. Corn Production:

    ~10% used for direct human consumption

    ~90% used for livestock feed

    Of the total U.S. corn crop, 10% is fed directly to humans (sweet corn). 90% is fed to livestock (field corn). So cattle, pigs and chickens are responsible for the overwhelming majority of the corn consumption in the USA. Ethanol is made from field corn, which is animal feed. If anyone is going hungry due to lack of corn in his or her diet that problem is easily solved. There’s plenty of field corn out there that’s being fed to livestock. It’s not as tasty and palatable as sweet corn, but it’s perfectly edible.

    A few interesting refs below:

    “We grow animal feed, not human food in the United States,” [Dr Bruce] Dale said. “We could feed the country’s population with 25 million acres of crop land, and we currently have 500 million acres. Most of our agricultural land is being used to grow animal feed.”

    http://www.physorg.com/news94224070.html

    “Ethanol production has been linked to a rise in the price of everything from tortillas to gummi bears. Unfortunately, this argument is very nearly ridiculous. The fact is that very little U.S. corn (about 10 percent) is fed directly to people; most of it is fed to animals.” — Dr Bruce Dale, Professor of Chemical Engineering, Michigan State University

    http://www.nj.com/opinion/times/editorials/index.ssf?/base/news-0/120737075044810.xml&coll=5

    CV and Contact Page for Dr Dale:

    http://www.chems.msu.edu/php/faculty.php?user=bdale

    * * * * * * * *

    ==> Diets are changing radically in nations such as China, India, Brazil and Russia, where economic growth has boosted meat consumption. In China, it is up by 150 per cent since 1980. In India, it has risen by 40 per cent in the past 15 years. The demand for meat from across all developing countries has doubled since 1980.

    ==> Because cattle and chickens are fed on corn — it takes 8kg of grain to produce 1kg of beef — the price has risen.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/the-other-global-crisis-rush-to-biofuels-is-driving-up-price-of-food-808138.html

    * * * * * * * *

    Startup Says It Can Make Ethanol for $1 a Gallon, and Without Corn

    24 January 2008

    A biofuel startup in Illinois can make ethanol from just about anything organic for less than $1 per gallon, and it wouldn’t interfere with food supplies, company officials said.

    ….May Wu, an environmental scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, says Coskata’s ethanol produces 84 percent less greenhouse gas than fossil fuel even after accounting for the energy needed to produce and transport the feedstock. It also generates 7.7 times more energy than is required to produce it. Corn ethanol typically generates 1.3 times more energy than is used producing it.

    http://www.wired.com/cars/energy/news/2008/01/ethanol23

    * * * * * * * *

    New Method Rapidly Produces Low-Cost Biofuels from Wood, Grass

    Wed 09 Apr 2008

    George Huber of the University of Massachusetts Amherst….is making biofuels from cellulose, the non-edible portion of plant biomass and a major component of grasses and wood. At $10 to $30 per barrel of oil energy equivalent, cellulosic biomass is significantly cheaper than crude oil. The U.S. could potentially produce 1.3 billion dry tons of cellulosic biomass per year, which has the energy content of four billion barrels of crude oil. That’s more than half of the seven billion barrels of crude oil consumed in our country each year. What’s more, biomass as an energy crop could increase the national farm income by $3 to $6 billion per year.

    http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/539563/?sc=rssn

  • well thats a good new, very nice review, i really like the comments, nice post guys keep it up….

    1970 Chevrolet Shop Manuals

  • well thats a good new, very nice review, i really like the comments, nice post guys keep it up….

    1970 Chevrolet Shop Manuals

  • well thats a good new, very nice review, i really like the comments, nice post guys keep it up….

    1970 Chevrolet Shop Manuals

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  • firthous

    dear sir,

    I want a complete project which can replace a petrol,diesel and run a car using sustainable fuel.Especially ethanol and hydrogen fuel.

  • firthous

    dear sir,

    I want a complete project which can replace a petrol,diesel and run a car using sustainable fuel.Especially ethanol and hydrogen fuel.

  • hmmm

    Just curious one year is not that long for mechanical testing considering there are a lot of older cars on the road what are the true long term effects of using e20, also e85 has a significant drop in mpg how was that in e20. i don’t make enough to rebuild a motor or pay more in fuel just to get to work, im all for alternative fuels i wish i could buy an e85 vehicle once cellulocic becomes the norm but hell the bottom line is where the money

  • hmmm

    Just curious one year is not that long for mechanical testing considering there are a lot of older cars on the road what are the true long term effects of using e20, also e85 has a significant drop in mpg how was that in e20. i don’t make enough to rebuild a motor or pay more in fuel just to get to work, im all for alternative fuels i wish i could buy an e85 vehicle once cellulocic becomes the norm but hell the bottom line is where the money

  • jag

    I live in MN and I’m ashamed that we have Governor (Pawlenty) who supports this nonsense.

  • jag

    I live in MN and I’m ashamed that we have Governor (Pawlenty) who supports this nonsense.

  • Steve-O

    Ethanol is a superior fuel, and many cars will achieve better mileage with e20 than with pure gas. I have a 1995 grand Am that does better on e20 and a 2006 2.0L hyundai that does about 5% worse on e20. Have been running them on e20 for years no fuel system problems yet ! The study is accurate, stop believing GM, they just want to move their newer models.

  • Steve-O

    Ethanol is a superior fuel, and many cars will achieve better mileage with e20 than with pure gas. I have a 1995 grand Am that does better on e20 and a 2006 2.0L hyundai that does about 5% worse on e20. Have been running them on e20 for years no fuel system problems yet ! The study is accurate, stop believing GM, they just want to move their newer models.