What’s in a Number?

What’s in a Number?

by Dave Vander Griend, President of Urban Air Initiative

Did you hate math as a kid? Or did you take to it and love numbers? In either case, as the ethanol industry seeks to increase its demand and market share, it is unavoidably a numbers game and one that can get confusing.

There’s a lot of talk about what’s the right number for ethanol once we get above E10. Clearly E15 is the next milestone. But as we work to capture ethanol’s octane benefits and its ability to replace some of the most harmful components of gasoline, we know the number should be higher. But is there a “right” number or are we just after higher volumes?

Some of our thinking stems from the great work done at the Department of Energy. Its engine fuel studies conclude the sweet spot for ethanol is between 25%-40%. For example, at the pump, E30 is a 94 octane super premium that can be easily produced by splash blending 20% ethanol on to today’s E10. At these levels, your current vehicle, and especially future vehicles can take full advantage of the available octane and has the best impact on reducing toxic emissions.

That’s demonstrated in this chart by Ford Motor Company. The black and red lines represent different emissions that lead to smog and ozone. You can see the emissions drop as ethanol is added, but notice they are at the lowest points with 30-40% ethanol blends.

It’s the scientific emission data and engine studies that prompted UAI to embrace E30. But that doesn’t mean we don’t support other blends. In fact, our mission is to improve air quality by improving gasoline. We support all ethanol blends, because any amount of ethanol simply added to gasoline helps protect public health.

But, if E30 is the scientific sweet spot, why do many mention E25? For example, the 2017 BMW Mini-cooper allows E25, which reaches the recommended 91 octane. One reason you may hear is the fact that standard gasoline pumps and hoses are UL certified to handle 25% volume blends. This existing infrastructure could be used today, providing more access across the nation. These new UL25 pumps are also much less expensive than E85/blending pump dispensers, reducing retailer costs.

Whatever the number E20, E25, E30, or E40, the additional ethanol provides significant benefits in performance, cost, and emission reductions. And that’s good for all of us. UAI will continue working to breakdown regulatory barriers so we can access more ethanol, no matter the number.