They’ve sprung up all over the place. Green- and yellow-colored fuel pumps at gasoline stations across the nation, pumping this stuff called “E85.”
So, what is it?
A blend of 85 percent ethanol alcohol and 15 percent gasoline, E85 is a new fuel that most new cars can use without any modification and that older cars can easily be converted to run on.
What’s the appeal of E85?
The products of the combustion of ethanol are carbon dioxide and water. Compared to pure gasoline, ethanol burns much cleaner. This leads to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (such as a carbon dioxide emission reduction of up to 46 percent) versus the burning of pure gasoline according to e85fuel.com.
Less emission leads to lower smog levels, producing cleaner air. This would be helpful especially in cities like Denver where brown smog from gasoline and diesel emissions is held over the city by the mountains, creating a “brown cloud.”
Ethanol is also a biodegradable, non-toxic and water-soluble fuel. E85 spills and underground tank leakage problems are not as harmful as gasoline or oil spills because a large part of the fuel is ethanol.
Further, if the United States shifted to E85 as a fuel source we could lower oil consumption to what we produce domestically and buy from allies and neighbors instead of despotic anti-American oil regimes.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, the United States is the third largest producer of oil in the world, behind Saudi Arabia (first) and Russia (second). Our neighbors Mexico and Canada rank fifth and seventh, respectively, on the list of oil producers.
For the other 85 percent of E85, we have what we need to produce ethanol right here on U.S. shores.
In the United States, ethanol is produced using corn products. And, according to a 2001 Pimentel Study, the production of ethanol from the fermentation of corn in the United States has a net energy balance of 1.65+.
What does that mean? It means that for every one unit of energy used to make ethanol from corn in the United States (that is, to grow, fertilize, transport, process, etc.), 1.65 units of energy is returned from that process.
A positive net energy balance for the production of fuel means that the process is cost efficient and profitable for investors.
Mind you, this is the net energy balance in 2001. As ethanol and E85 become more popular, production technology will improve and efficiency of the industry will increase.
Further, ethanol and E85 production supports American farmers. Because its main ingredient is homegrown corn, it is estimated that ethanol production will boost net farm income $4.5 billion in coming years while stabilizing commodity prices for corn products.
Ethanol production will also bolster our economy; it is estimated to add approximately 200,000 jobs in the United States, while improving the trade balance by $2 billion, according to e85fuel.com.
E85 is a transitory fuel; it’ll help us lower our oil consumption, lower pollution and wean ourselves off of gasoline and foreign oil while simultaneously supporting our economy and creating American jobs on our way to fossil fuel-free energy sources such as ethanol, methanol and solar power.
It’s a win-win situation and a step in the right direction, a step toward renewable fuels and energy independence.
Drew Haugen is a senior international studies major. His column appears every Monday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.