By Tim Rudnicki, Esq.
Welcome to the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Buzz. In the last issue of the Buzz I noted many consumer and environmental benefits are associated with Today’s 21st Century Biofuels. Since the last issue of the Buzz went out, a number of you have asked me about a biofuel called E15 and the environmental benefits of biofuels. Here is a nutshell version of some answers to those questions.
In June 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved adding 85% gasoline to 15% ethanol for use as a motor fuel in 2001 and newer light duty vehicles. This mixture of ethanol and gasoline is called E15 (more accurately, it should be nicknamed “Eco-15"). E15 went through about six (6) million miles of testing before it was approved for use in about 70% of the gasoline powered vehicles on the roadways today. No other fuel has received this amount of testing! The bottom line: “The Stuff Works!” (More Info On E15 Here)
If your light duty vehicle was built within the last 12 years, you can use E15. For consumers using E15, it’s like getting a premium fuel for the price of regular gasoline. Over the holidays I had the good fortune to travel to locations where E15 is available. Although the price for a gallon of gasoline is variable, E15 was 10 cents less per gallon compared to regular gasoline. E15 is a motor fuel similar to regular gasoline (most regular fuel has 90% gasoline added to 10% ethanol) except E15 performs like premium fuel for less money. Regular gasoline is 87 octane while E15 is 90 octane.
At the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association we like to say: “Today’s 21st Century Biofuels Are Not Your Daddy’s Ethanol” for several reasons. First, Minnesota biofuel producers have significantly reduced the amount of water used to produce a gallon of biofuel. Many producers recirculate all the water they use to produce biofuels and some use less than two gallons of water to make a gallon of biofuel. Compare this to crude oil processing techniques that use 40 gallons of water to make one gallon of gasoline. (Source:Minnesota Technical Assistance Program)
Todays’ biofuels, compared to a few years ago, are improved for another reason: it takes less energy to make it and the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions are far lower for biofuels. Researchers measured the amount of energy it takes to pump oil, refine it to make gasoline and then deliver the gasoline to your favorite gas station. Researchers also measured the amount of energy used to grow, harvest and process renewable energy ingredients into biofuels and to deliver those biofuels, like E15, to your favorite fuel dispenser. Remember, whether we are talking about biofuels or gasoline, it takes energy to make energy. The big difference is this: to make the same amount of energy from biofuels uses 60% less energy inputs compared to the amount of energy used to make gasoline. (Source: Argonne National Laboratory) You might wonder, how can that happen? How can we get more energy out of biofuels than what is used to make biofuels? The short answer: (1) biofuels are made from renewable ingredients that capture solar energy and store the energy in the plant material and (2) biofuel producers simply unlock the energy stored in renewable ingredients like field corn kernels and other plant materials.
Lastly, the GHG environmental issue. Based on a December 2012 published study by Argonne National Laboratory, biofuels, like ethanol, reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Compared to petroleum gasoline, biofuels can reduce GHG emissions from 57% (field corn used as renewable ingredient) to 115% (miscanthus used as renewable ingredient). (Source: Argonne National Laboratory)
No need to wait! If you don’t have a flex fuel vehicle and are looking for a way to immediately reduce GHG emissions (“green” your 2001 or newer light duty vehicle), look for E15 and use E15. If you can’t find E15 at your favorite retailer, ask for E15. As soon as you start using E15, you will further reduce GHG emissions right here, right now.
Take a look at the balance of Minnesota Bio-Fuels Buzz for a sampling of some important issues in the world of biofuels. As always, if you have questions or comments about what you read in the Buzz, send me a note (Contact Page) or call me (612.924.6495).