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The Environmental Benefits of Using E85 Fuel

As climate change continues to threaten ecosystems and communities around the world, there is an urgent need to find clean, renewable fuel alternatives that can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. One option that has gained greater interest and usage over the last couple decades is E85 – an ethanol fuel blend that contains 51% to 83% ethanol and just 15% to 49% gasoline.

Key Takeaway
E85 reduces greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles by 20-50%
E85 cuts emissions of harmful air pollutants by over 50%
E85 supports growth of renewable biofuel industry
E85 decreases reliance on finite fossil fuel resources
Expanding flex fuel vehicles is key to maximizing E85 environmental benefits

E85 presents a compelling option for environmentally friendly drivers looking to make a difference through their vehicle and fuel choices. When analyzed in a lifecycle assessment across its production and usage, E85 demonstrates significantly reduced emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants compared to pure gasoline. The higher ethanol content also promotes growth in renewable biofuel industries and reduces reliance on finite oil resources. Read on to learn more about the advantages and opportunities of transitioning to E85 fuel.

Dramatically Lowers Greenhouse Gas Emissions

E85 ethanol molecule

Multiple studies have found that the increased bio-based ethanol content in E85 fuels lead to substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional gasoline vehicles. By measuring total emissions from the growth of feedstocks to actual miles driven, researchers have estimated E85 can lower a vehicle’s lifecycle carbon dioxide emissions per mile by 20% to 50%.The majority of these reductions come directly from the cleaner chemical output of burning ethanol instead of pure gasoline. When combusted, ethanol emits much less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – generating about 30% less CO2 per unit of energy. Less carbon emitted per mile traveled results in a meaningful drop in total greenhouse gas contributions from personal vehicles. If just 20% of all vehicles in the U.S. ran on E85, it would reduce national GHG emissions by over 60 million metric tons per year – equivalent to taking about 13 million cars completely off the roads!Besides the direct emissions reductions, the increased agricultural demand from large-scale ethanol production further counteracts transport emissions by converting more acres of cropland to carbon sink farmland. The growth in farmland area attributed to ethanol usage currently offsets 5-10% of total E85 greenhouse gas output through crops’ carbon sequestration effects alone.Significantly Lowers Emissions of Other Air PollutantsOn top of impressive reductions in greenhouse gases, researchers have conclusively found that E85 also lowers emissions of harmful localized air pollutants that can damage public health and the environment. These regulated pollutants include carbon monoxide, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and more.Due to ethanol’s cleaner and more complete combustion, E85 reduces emissions of air toxins like 1,3-butadiene and benzene by over 50% compared to gasoline. Lower air pollutants means better air quality and reduced risks of respiratory illnesses linked to long-term vehicle exposure – showcasing health advantages in addition to ecological advantages.Supports Renewable Biofuel Growth & Energy IndependenceBy creating substantial market demand for bio-based ethanol, widespread adoption of E85 also supports continued growth and innovation in the renewable fuel industry while lowering dependence on finite oil resources.As ethanol production expands with higher blend usage under the Renewable Fuel Standard, it further drives the planting of biofuel crops and agricultural residues for conversion into usable biofuels. In 2021, over 43% of the U.S. corn crop went into ethanol production to create biofuel alternatives for vehicle owners looking to move past oil. This helps reduce imports of foreign oil while building a domestic low-carbon economy through local renewable fuel supply chains.Higher biofuel demand will also accelerate research into cellulosic ethanol from farm waste products and biofuel crop residuals. These advanced biofuels utilize leftover waste streams to create ethanol and don’t require dedicated food crops at all. Early cellulosic ethanol facilities are already coming online to process corn stover, wood waste and fast growing biofuel plants like switchgrass. The market-driving effects of consumers filling up on higher ethanol blends will be crucial to realizing the full potential of waste-to-fuel bioeconomy.Other Notable BenefitsBeyond emission and energy independence advantages, ethanol-based E85 also provides a few other compelling benefits:

  • Biodegradability – Spilled ethanol readily biodegrades with little lasting impact on ecosystems. Gasoline contaminations can persist for years in soil and groundwater.
  • Lower Toxicity – Ethanol is less toxic than gasoline, making it safer for transport, storage and usage handling by fuel suppliers and everyday consumers alike.
  • Octane Boost – The extra ethanol in E85 has a sky-high 113 octane rating – giving it the potential to provide a “high octane” fuel option when utilized in specially equipped flex-fuel vehicles.

Realizing the Benefits Through Flex Fuel Vehicle ExpansionTo fully realize the array of environmental benefits offered by widespread E85 adoption, more drivers need access to flex fuel vehicles capable of handling ethanol blends up to 85%. Thankfully, adding flex fuel configurations at automobile factories is inexpensive at just $100-200 per vehicle.Policies like tax incentives for flex fuel vehicles and requirements for automakers to produce a certain portion of new vehicles as flex fuel cars can go a long way to making E85 accessible to everyday drivers looking to tap into ethanol’s emission lowering potential. Pairing convenient E85 infrastructure expansion with surging flex fuel offerings gives Americans an eco-friendly choice at the pump capable of transforming transportation’s carbon footprint for the better.

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