A Choice at the Pump
The Urban Air Initiative is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving air quality and protecting public health by reducing vehicle emissions. We are focused on increasing the use of clean burning ethanol in our gasoline supply to replace harmful aromatic compounds in gasoline. UAI is helping meet public policy goals to lower emissions and reduce carbon in our environment through scientific studies and real-world data to promote new fuels, engine design, and public awareness.
In 2012, UAI was founded as a nonprofit organization. UAI works closely with others to improve air quality and reduce harmful compounds in gasoline by focusing on technical research, public policy, and education.
What We’re noticing
As Americans, our addiction to oil has caused real health consequences. The combustion of gasoline produces ultra-fine particulate matter and toxic pollutants that affect the health of our communities, families, and children.
What We’ve determined
Our research, along with independent studies, has determined that adding more ethanol to gasoline replaces these harmful aromatic compounds, reducing tailpipe and greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality.
What We’re focused on
UAI is now focused on educating the public on the issue and taking regulatory steps in an effort to get the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make the necessary changes to fix our fuel and improve our air quality and health.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are aromatics?
Aromatic hydrocarbons already exist in crude oil sources, but are also added during the oil refining process. Aromatics are blended into gasoline to increase octane. These are generally toxic and often carcinogenic substances that are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as air toxics. These aromatics include benzene, toluene and xylene (BTEX), often referred to as the BTEX Group. However, there are many other aromatics that exist in the final gasoline blend.
Why are aromatics used in gasoline?
One of the greatest successes of the 1970’s Clean Air Act was mandating the removal of lead – the predominant source for increasing octane in gasoline. Lead was a known poison and presented numerous health problems. Unfortunately, phasing out lead resulted in a new problem as refiners looked to boost octane and prevent engine knocking by using more aromatic compounds. Though these aromatic compounds were health hazards themselves, the BTEX group were still considered less toxic than lead.
What are the health issues associated with aromatics?
Whether it’s spikes in low birth weights in Los Angeles or off-the chart asthma cases in Minneapolis, the patterns are consistent, and exposure to urban air and high levels of traffic pollution can have profound health effects. This is due to the fact that aromatics come out of our vehicles as ultra-fine particulates that bypass the lungs and directly enter the bloodstream. Ultra-fine particulates are not found in nature, they are only man-made. So, our body’s natural defenses can’t filter the threat of something that’s smaller than the width of a human hair.
In March 2011, an EPA report estimated that reducing particulate matter (PM) according to Clean Air Act requirements would save nearly 230,000 people from early death in the year 2020 and save nearly $2 trillion in health-related expenses.
What percentage of my gasoline contains aromatics?
Today’s gasoline contains, on average, 25 percent aromatic compounds. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the current gasoline pool is estimated at 135 billion gallons sold annually. With 25 percent being aromatic compounds, that means about 30 billion gallons of aromatics are used each year.
How much air pollution from aromatics is due to gasoline combustion?
The EPA estimates that 85 percent of aromatic benzene and its derivatives in urban areas comes from motor vehicle exhaust. EPA calculations related to Mobile Source Air Toxics show reducing just 0.15 percent of particulates that are produced from these aromatics is worth $15 billion in health-related benefits.
Can ethanol be used as an octane substitute for aromatics?
Yes, ethanol can provide a clean octane source to gasoline, reducing the need for aromatics. Ethanol offers twice the octane increase when simply added to gasoline compared to any other gasoline component, making it also the most economical choice.
To learn more about how ethanol works in different kinds of engines, visit Fueling the Truth.
Does Congress have to approve the replacement of aromatics with ethanol?
No. More than 20 years ago, Congress acted by voting overwhelmingly for clean octane provisions in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. The Clean Air Act clearly gives the EPA the statutory authority and legal obligation to reduce aromatic pollutants in motor vehicle exhaust.
Is there enough ethanol to replace significant levels of aromatics?
Yes. The ethanol industry produced more than 14 billion gallons in 2015, which means a growing and stable ethanol supply can meet more of the octane needs of petroleum refiners.