Farm Horizons, Sept. 2005

E-85 fuel:Starting from the ground up

By Ryan Gueningsman

With the rate gas prices are increasing, wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to save 30 or even 40 cents per gallon on fuel?

With the introduction of E-85, which is an ethanol-based fuel, in recent years, consumers are finding relief at the pumps paying for E-85.

The new fuel is promoted as having superior performance characteristics, burning cleaner than gasoline, and is a renewable, domestic source of fuel for automobiles. It uses 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

Today, the United States imports more than half of its oil, and overall consumption continues to increase, according to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition. By supporting ethanol production and use, drivers can help reverse that trend.

Government tests have shown that E-85 vehicles reduce harmful hydrocarbon and benzene emissions when compared to vehicles running on gasoline. E-85 can also reduce carbon dioxide, a harmful greenhouse gas and a major contributor to global warming.

“Nationwide, ethanol use is about 2 percent,” said Senator Mark Dayton on a recent stop in Hutchinson to promote E-85. “Here (in Minnesota) it’s at 10 percent.”

Along with Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, Dayton introduced the Ethanol Vehicle Awareness amendment to the highway bill earlier this year, which requires all automakers to display labels inside the gas tank covers and on windshields of vehicles that have the ability to run on E-85 fuel, beginning with the model year 2007.

“The amendment was unanimously approved by the full Senate May 12 and will help remind consumers that they have the option to buy E-85 fuel,” Dayton said.

Dayton also co-sponsored an amendment to the Senate’s highway bill to provide a tax credit of up to $30,000 for gas stations that install or convert pumps to offer E-85 fuel.

“Ethanol gasoline is still not available in many regions of the country,” Dayton said. “This tax incentive would help to promote E-85 use nation-wide.”

At the Cenex station in Hutchinson, Dayton told people about a new feature on his web site, which allows people to see where E-85 pumps are located throughout the United States. His web site can be accessed at www.dayton.senate.gov.

According to his web site, in the immediate area, E-85 can be purchased at the following stations:

• Holiday in Buffalo

• Conoco in Buffalo

• Lake Region Cenex in Cokato

• Mid-County Coop in Cologne

• AMPI Ag Services in Glencoe

• Both Freedom gas stations in Hutchinson

• Hutchinson Coop Cenex

• Consumers Coop Cenex of Litchfield

Local retailers and gas station managers have mixed feelings about the new fuel, with several noting the interest hasn’t been high enough for their stations to pursue the fuel.

Winsted Farmers Coop manager Gary Diedrick said at this time, there are no plans to put in an E-85 pump.

“There just isn’t enough interest to justify it,” he said. “Maybe in the future, but right now, it’s just not enough.”

Mid-County Coop Cenex gas station manager Del Gallup said use of the new pump has been “steady.”

“We have continuous questions on what can be run on it (E-85), but it’s getting better all the time,” she said.

Mid-County manager Bill Reimers said they will sell it, and see how the market responds to it.

“It’s up to the consumer if they will embrace it or not,” he said.

What is ethanol?

Ethanol is a high octane, liquid, domestic and renewable fuel, produced by the fermentation of plant sugars, according to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition.

In the United States, ethanol is typically produced from corn and other grain products, although in the future it may be economically produced from other biomass resources such as agricultural and forestry wastes or specially grown energy crops.

Ethanol also degrades quickly in water and, therefore, poses much less risk to the environment than an oil or gasoline spill, according to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition.

Although Co2 is released during ethanol production and combustion, it is recaptured as a nutrient to the crops that are used in its production.

Unlike fossil fuel combustion, which unlocks carbon that has been stored for years, use of ethanol results in low increases to the carbon cycle. Ethanol has an octane of approximately 105.

It is produced from a fermentation/distillation method, similar to that used to produce beverage alcohol. All agricultural crops and residues contain six-carbon sugars or compounds of these sugars. To produce ethanol from grain, the starch portion of the grain is exposed and mixed with water to form a mash. The mash is heated and enzymes are added to separate the fermentable sugars, according to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition.

The next phase, fermentation, involves the addition of yeast to convert the sugars to ethanol and carbon dioxide.

Fermentation produces a mixture called “beer,” which contains about 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent water. The “beer” is then boiled in a distillation column to separate the water, resulting in fuel-grade ethanol that is 85 to 95 percent pure. Ethanol production from grain utilizes only the starch.

A variety of highly valued feed co-products, including gluten meal, gluten feed, and dried distillers grains, are produced from the remaining protein, minerals, vitamins, and fiber, and are sold as high-value feed for livestock.

In addition to grain, ethanol is also produced today from wood waste, cheese whey, waste sucrose, potato waste, brewery waste, and food and beverage wastes, according to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition.

The next generation of ethanol production facilities will include production from cellulose and biomass feedstocks.

Minnesota has 14 ethanol plants scattered mostly throughout the southern portion of the state.

More than 3 million vehicles capable of running on E-85

A total of 3.5 million E-85 vehicles were anticipated to be on the road by the end of 2004.

DaimlerChrysler, Ford, GMC, Mazda, Mercury and Isuzu all produce or produced vehicles that can run on E-85 or gasoline when E-85 is unavailable.

There is only one major additional part that is included on a flexible fuel vehicle (FFV) – the fuel sensor that detects the ethanol/gasoline ratio. A number of other parts on the FFV’s fuel delivery system are modified so that they are ethanol compatible, according to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition.

The fuel tank, fuel lines, fuel injectors, computer system, anti-siphon device, and dashboard gauges have been modified slightly.

Alcohols are corrosive. Therefore, any part that comes in contact with the fuel has been upgraded to be tolerant to alcohol. Normally, these parts include a stainless steel fuel tank and Teflon-lined fuel hoses, according to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition.

No problems should occur if you mistakenly fuel a non-E85 powered vehicle once with E-85 fuel. The largest difference between an E-85 powered vehicle and a gasoline powered vehicle is that their computer modules are meant to read different amounts of oxygen within the fuel.  E-85 contains a higher amount of oxygen than gasoline and E-85 compatible vehicles are made to read that higher amount, according to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition.

When a higher amount of oxygen is read by a gasoline powered vehicle, your “check engine light” may appear.  However, the vehicle will run just as it will with gasoline. 

For more information, contact one of the gas stations listed in this article that provide E-85 fuel, or visit www.e85fuel.com, or Sen. Dayton’s web site at www.dayton.senate.gov and click on the E-85 link.

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