Answers to Frequently Asked Questions and Links to More Information
What is the national Renewable Fuel Standard?
The U.S. Congress passed and President signed the Energy Policy Act (EPAct) of 2005. The law established the first national Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The RFS program regulations were developed in collaboration with refiners, renewable fuel producers, and many other stakeholders. The original RFS program (RFS1) required 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuel to be blended into gasoline by 2012. Under the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007, the RFS program was expanded to increase the volume of renewable fuel required to be blended into transportation fuel from 9 billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion gallons by 2022. Congress requires the Environmental Protection Agency to review the RFS each year.
Surveys indicate most Americans and their elected officials are concerned about the negative economic, environmental, and energy/national security implications that result from the nation’s dependence on importing crude oil from unstable parts of the Middle East and organizations that are interested in controlling the supply and price of world crude oil. Only 2% of the nation’s demand for oil is used to generate electricity while 70% is used for transportation. Therefore, the RFS lays the foundation for achieving significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions from the use of renewable fuels [for transportation], for reducing imported petroleum, and encouraging the development and expansion of our nation's renewable fuels sector. (Also see: How is ethanol different than gasoline?)
Economic Security Impact Analysis
Environmental Security Impact Analysis
Energy Security Impact Analysis
How will the nation meet the goals of the RFS?
Currently, the majority of renewable transportation fuel produced to meet the RFS is ethanol made from corn. The RFS caps the amount of ethanol that can be produced from corn and be eligible for the RFS at 15 billion gallons per year (bgpy). U.S. ethanol capacity is currently about 14 bgpy. To reach the 36 bgpy RFS renewable fuel goal, there are several different technologies and feedstocks that will need to be used and new environmental performance requirements that must be met. With regard to ethanol produced from corn, there are many direct and indirect economic, environmental, and energy/national security benefits to the public. The next standard in the RFS for ethanol production will be advanced biofuels and/or cellulosic ethanol. Advanced and cellulosic ethanol will be produced from trash, agricultural waste, special energy crops, and just about any other biomass material. At some point in the future, the use of higher blends of ethanol in FlexFuel Vehicles will play a critical role in meeting the goals of the RFS.
FlexFuel vehicles (FFVs) are capable of operating on 100% gasoline, E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline), or any mixture in between. FFVs contain an upgraded fueling system (computer chip, fuel line, and fuel tank) which is made up of higher quality components to accommodate the higher oxygen/alcohol content of E85. FFVs are under full warranty from the manufacturer. E85 should only be used in ethanol-capable FFVs.
What makes a FlexFuel Vehicle (FFV) different from other cars?
All cars can run on 10% ethanol (E10). FFVs are almost identical to their conventional “gasoline only” counterparts. Their power, acceleration, payload, and cruise speed are similar and in some cases better when compared to running on just gasoline. FFV makers (e.g., Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Toyota, Mercedes, etc.) add a few special components to make sure FFVs can use any combination of ethanol or gasoline – which is what makes the FFV “Flexible”. The only major differences are a computer chip to let the engine automatically adjust to gasoline/ethanol mixtures and a special fuel line and fuel tank to allow for the higher blends of ethanol. All FFVs have the same warranty as their “gasoline only” counterparts.
You don’t have to have an Indy Car to use higher than 10% blends of ethanol. Do you own a Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Isuzu, Mazada, Mercedes, Mercury, Nissan, orToyota? Certain models are FlexFuel Vehicles (FFVs) and you can tell by a sticker inside your fuel cover, gas cap, FFV badge on the vehicle, or the owners manual. The next time you fill up, look for “FFV, E85, Ethanol Capable,” or other similar wording. To be absolutely sure you have an FFV check your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), provided on your vehicle registration, with the Make/Model/Year information provided on our website linked above in the question.
How many FlexFuel Vehicles (FFV) are there on the road or for sale
According to the Department of Energy there are there are nearly 9 million FFVs on the road today (E85 FFVs in Use in U.S.). There are 53 FFV models for sale in showrooms today. U.S. automakers pledged to make 50% of their new vehicles FFVs by 2012. New FFV production could result in nearly 5 million new FFVs each year that could use over 20 billion gallons of E85. Links to companies that sell the majority of FFVs are General Motors , Ford and Chrysler. A complete list of the 53 FFV models can be found on the Department of Energy website.
Today the primary alternative fuel available in the market is ethanol blended at a 10% level, and is called or E10. E10 is approved for use in all vehicles and small engines. The EPA recently approved the sale of E15 in vehicles made after 2001. E15 is not currently for sale. The other use of ethanol, when used as an “alternative fuel,” is called E85 (i.e., 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline). There is a growing trend to offer consumers a range of ethanol blended gasoline such as E20/E30/E50. These variable blends are often called “FlexFuels” in the marketplace and will be dispensed from “FlexFuel dispensers” for use in “FlexFuel Vehicles.”
FlexFuels will allow consumers to choose the amount of ethanol they want to use in their FFVs. As part of the public education effort of the national FFV Awareness Campaign, it is important for consumers to understand that their vehicles are “Flexible.” This flexibility allows consumers the option to buy ethanol blends based on the individual’s economic, environmental, or energy/national security preferences.
What is E85 and is it cleaner burning?
E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline) is considered an alternative fuel under the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPAct). It is used to fuel E85-capable flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs), which are available in a variety of models from U.S. and foreign automakers.
Actual emissions will vary with engine design; these numbers reflect the potential reductions offered by ethanol (E85), relative to conventional gasoline.
* Estimates based on ethanol’s inherently "cleaner" chemical properties with an engine that takes full advantage of these fuel properties.
Ethanol is currently blended into nearly all of the nation’s gasoline in nearly every state in the country. Ethanol, otherwise known as ethyl alcohol, alcohol, grain-spirit, or neutral spirit, is a clear, colorless and flammable oxygenated fuel. Ethanol is used to increase octane and improve the emissions quality of gasoline as required by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 for carbon monoxide and ozone nonattainment areas. Thus, in areas of the country where clean air standards are not met, which include many metropolitan areas around the country, ethanol is mixed into conventional gasoline. You may see a sign on your gas pump- “This fuel contains ethanol”, or a percentage ethanol may be noted. It is blended with gasoline to extend fuel supplies at volume levels of 5.7 volume percent, 7.7 volume percent or 10 volume percent, in reformulated gasoline or conventional gasoline. Ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline, and reduces a number of priority pollutants, including carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and hydrocarbons. It is considered carbon dioxide neutral, since, though carbon dioxide is produced when ethanol burns, the plants used to make ethanol use carbon dioxide during photosynthesis.
Ethanol is also considered an alternative fuel when used in an 85% blend (E85) to meet goals outlined in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. E85 uses ethanol blended at 85% in the summer time, but uses a slightly lower 70% in the winter.
Will ethanol perform well and is it covered under my automobile warranty?
All automobile manufacturers approve the use of ethanol/gasoline blends. Approval of ethanol blends is found in the owner’s manual under references to refueling or gasoline. General Motors Corporation states in its owner’s manual they recommend the use of fuel oxygenates, such as ethanol, when and where available. Fuel ethanol blends are sold in nearly every state and can be found in over 90% of the nation’s gasoline. Fuel ethanol blended gasoline has achieved nearly 100% market share of all gasoline sold in certain carbon monoxide (oxygenated gasoline) and ozone nonattainment areas (reformulated gasoline, RFG). Minnesota has adopted a statewide oxygenated fuel program that has resulted in ethanol being blended in over 95% of the state’s gasoline. Therefore, fuel ethanol is successfully used in all types of vehicles and engines that require gasoline.
Ethanol is an alcohol based fuel, which is distilled from natural materials such as corn, sugar cane, or other plants, and is considered a renewable fuel, since farmers can grow more of the materials needed to make it. E85 has a much higher octane than even super premium gasoline, at 100-105, which improves vehicle performance. Pure, 100% ethanol has an octane rating of 113. Adding 10% ethanol to unleaded gasoline raises the octane by 2 -3 points. Ethanol has a lower energy content (British Thermal Unit, BTU) compared to gasoline, so fuel economy may be less depending on the vehicle and blend level of ethanol. Good driving habits (smooth acceleration, avoiding jack-rabbit starting), driving the speed limit, and proper tire inflation may be used to address some of the decrease. Ethanol is produced in the United States, from domestically grown crops, and its use helps the farm economy. Buying a domestic fuel keeps transportation fuel dollars in the United States creating 500,000 jobs and generates over $50 billion in annual gross national product.
Gasoline is refined from crude oil/petroleum, which is a finite resource that takes millions of years to form. The U.S. reached is maximum production of crude oil in the 1970’s, production in the Gulf of Mexico is declining too, and as a result the nation has increased its reliance on imported oil by as much as 70%.Industry and government leaders are concerned about oil imports, as well as the ownership, location, supply/demand, the real cost of oil, and the carcinogens and toxics in gasoline – which is why there is the national renewable fuel standard (RFS) and the need to find alternative and renewable transportation fuels. The U.S. has 3% of the world’s oil reserves and the Middle East has 88%.About 60% of the oil imported into the U.S. is from countries represented by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). About 90% of the world’s oil is owned by countries not companies, which puts pressure on the “free market.” Only 2% of the nation’s oil is used for generating electricity and over 70% goes to transportation. Clean energy is important to reduce emissions and stimulate the economy, but will have little impact on national security. Two oil embargoes, two price spikes, and three wars in the Middle East region are placing increasing pressures on the nation’s military, diplomatic community, and the national deficit.
FFV’s were first produced in 1988, mostly for fleet testing, when the Alternative Motor Fuels Act was passed. This legislation created “corporate average fuel economy credits,’’ also called CAFE credits, for automakers to produce FFV’s, as well as programs to help with the millions of dollars needed for research, development, certification, and demonstration projects. The legislation worked. FFVs account for about half of all new vehicles made by U.S. automakers. Projections show there could be nearly 30 million FFV’s on U.S. roads by 2015.
FFVs have been produced commercially for consumer use since 1995. In the early 1990’s industry and government leaders agreed a significant number of FFVs would need to be on the road before gasoline retailers would invest in installing special gasoline dispensers designed to dispense higher blends, or multiple blends, of ethanol. At that time there were fewer than 100 stations selling higher blends of ethanol, like E85.
Today there are over 2,300 stations selling higher blends of ethanol. There are only seven states that do not offer consumers higher than 10% blend of ethanol. However, the vast majority of the 2,300 gasoline stations have been put into operation in just the past five years. Therefore, FFV makers and dealerships selling FFVs did not have much of a story to tell the public that may have been interested in alternative fuels, alternative fuel vehicles, or using E85 in their FFV. Times have changed. Now there are about 40 cities in the U.S. that have high concentrations of FFVs. In some cases cities have a higher concentration of FFVs than they have light duty/passenger diesel vehicles. The national FFV Awareness Campaign is a national public education effort to work with interested stakeholders in designated areas/cities with high concentrations of FFVs to help locate, educate, and motivate FFV owners to use higher blends of ethanol to help meet the goals of the national renewable fuel standard. With two recent price spikes in world crude oil prices and continuing diplomatic problems in the Middle East, E85 has proved to be a less expensive and dependable alternative. It is a liquid fuel that can be stored in conventional gasoline storage tanks such as the one already at your local gasoline station. E85 has safety practices similar to gasoline, and is dispensed in a similar manner.Will ethanol increase or lower the price of gasoline?
Numerous government and private studies conducted during the 2008 crude oil price crisis revealed that adding ethanol to the nation’s gasoline supply lowered the price of all gallons of gasoline. The average reduction in gasoline prices, when considering all studies, was about 25 cents per gallon (estimates ranged from 7-50 cents per gallon). Based on annual gasoline sales of 120 billion gallons per year, and an assumed savings of 25 cents per gallon, ethanol could be saving consumers an estimated $24 billion per year.
How much do FlexFuels, ethanol, E85 cost?
The cost of FlexFuels/ethanol/E85 will vary depending on federal, state and local taxes, distance of gasoline stations from ethanol plants, and the level of ethanol (e.g., E20/30/40/50/85) in the blend. Typically, higher blends of ethanol are discounted about 15% less than the price of regular unleaded as an incentive for consumers to try these new fuels, for gasoline marketers to offer these new alternative fuels, and to make up for any loss in mileage to the consumer. The Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicle Data Center tracks the price of alternative fuels. Other free E85 prices monitoring services include E85prices.com and the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest.
I have heard ethanol lowers the price of gasoline. What is difference between miles per gallon, market price, MPG, and the benefits of FlexFuels/Ethanol/E85?
When it comes to consumer choice, values, and preferences there is no one size fits all comparison. Star Bucs coffee, high performance cars, organic milk, and spring water are just a few examples of how Americans value different products – when price is not the only comparison. FlexFuels are in the same category. (also see Will ethanol increase or lower the price of gasoline? And Why is there a national Renewable Fuel Standard and what will it achieve?
Will the use of FlexFuel impact my mileage or performance?
Have you heard the phrase your actual mileage may vary? This is true with FlexFuels too. Test fuels to determine official EPA miles per gallon (MPG) ratings on the window sticker differ from those fuels available in the marketplace, and fuels in the market place vary depending on the season and region. The type FlexFuel vehicle (e.g., sports utility vs. sedan, or 1995 sedan vs. 2011 turbo charged Buick Regal sedan) and driving habits will also impact MPG. Acceleration habits, tire pressure, and even driving the speed limit, which can save you 20%, and impact the final MGP. In general, ethanol has a lower British thermal unit (BTU) rating than gasoline, and therefore most will agree drivers could experience lower the MPG with higher the ethanol blends. Some recent field studies show a 15% mileage loss, new studies show single digit mileage loss, and some consumers show little difference when using midgrade levels of FlexFuel like E30. The best thing is to try E85 or some lower level and create your own economic, environmental, energy/national security value evaluation.
There are several studies available that show a wide range of fuel mileage losses ranging from little to 15% from the American Coalition for Ethanol, University of Nebraska, and The Rochester Institute for Technology. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, other than lower gas mileage, motorists will see little difference when using E85 versus gasoline. E85 has about 27% less energy per gallon than gasoline. However, E85 is typically priced lower than gasoline, so that cost per mile is comparable. For more information about E85's energy content and other fuel characteristics, see Fuel Properties and E85 Specifications. Use the FFV Cost Calculator to determine FFV fuel economy, fuel costs, and greenhouse gas reductions. Learn more about E85 Emissions.
FlexFuel gasoline dispensers: What are they, can I find one near me, and how can my gasoline retailer get one installed?
The Clean Fuels Foundation announced it has published a new document supporting current efforts to expand refueling infrastructure for high level ethanol blends.
E85 and Blender Pumps: A Resource Guide to Ethanol Refueling Infrastructure was developed in cooperation with the Nebraska Ethanol Board, the US Department of Agriculture, and the FlexFuel Vehicle Awareness Campaign. The guide was created to help fuel marketers and other interested parties learn more about options available to them to market ethanol blends.
The guide provides technical details regarding dispensers and vehicles as well as information covering such areas as financial assistance, construction, and permitting .
Copies of the Guide may be obtained by contacting the Clean Fuels Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org, the Nebraska Ethanol Board at Billy.Defrain@nebraska.gov, or downloading a copy here.
Can the nation achieve the national Renewable Fuel Standard with FFVs and ethanol? It will depend on the willingness of consumers to voluntarily purchase ethanol blends, at prices that can be offered by ethanol producers that are based on the cost of production, when compared to the cost of imported oil. In the long run Department of Energy studies show there is enough biomass to replace 30% of the nations gasoline and industry studies show that with more E85 stations and FFVs the U.S. can meet the goals of the RFS.
What is difference between miles per gallon (MPG), market price, and the benefits of using FlexFuels/Ethanol/E85?
When it comes to consumer choice, personal values, and product preferences there not a fair one-size-fits-all comparison. Star Bucs coffee, high performance cars, organic milk, and spring water are just a few examples of how Americans value different products – when price is not the only comparison. FlexFuels are in the same category offering consumers new products, increased competition, and new retail fuel choices (also see the questions Will ethanol increase or lower the price of gasoline? And Why is there a national Renewable Fuel Standard and what will it achieve?).
Will the use of FlexFuel impact my mileage or performance?
Have you heard or seen the phrase “your actual mileage may vary” in commercials or literature? This is true with FlexFuels too. Test fuels to determine official EPA miles per gallon (MPG) ratings listed on the new vehicle sales stickers differ from fuels available in the marketplace, and fuels in the market place vary depending on the season and region. The type of FlexFuel vehicle (e.g., sports utility vs. sedan, or 1995 sedan vs. 2011 turbo charged Buick Regal sedan) and driving habits will also impact MPG. Acceleration habits, tire pressure, and even driving the speed limit, which can save you 20%, can impact the final MGP. In general, ethanol has a lower British thermal unit (BTU) rating than gasoline, and therefore most will agree drivers could experience lower the MPG with higher ethanol blends. Some recent field studies show a 15% mileage loss with E85, new studies with new FFVs show single digit mileage loss, and some consumers have reported they see little difference when using midgrade levels of FlexFuels like E30. Try E85 or lower level blends of ethanol and create your own personal economic, environmental, energy/national security value vs. price evaluation. There are several studies available to the public that show a wide range of fuel mileage losses on E85 that show up to 15% less MPG from the American Coalition for Ethanol, University of Nebraska, and The Rochester Institute for Technology. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, other than lower gas mileage, motorists will see little difference when using E85 versus gasoline. DOE’s website says E85 has about 27% less energy per gallon than conventional gasoline. However, E85 is typically priced lower than gasoline, so that cost per mile is comparable. For more information about E85's energy content and other fuel characteristics, see DOE’s Fuel Properties, E85 Specifications and FFV Cost Calculator to determine FFV fuel economy, fuel costs, and greenhouse gas reductions – and learn more about E85 Emissions.
Where can I find additional information about Frequently Asked Questions about FFVs, Ethanol, and E85?