Mid-Level Ethanol Blends & Impact on Automakers

Mid-level ethanol blends such as E12, E15, E20 and even as high as E40 have garnered a lot of attention lately. Mainly because ethanol producers want a quick and easy way to soak up a surplus of ethanol that will soon reach the saturation point for the current supply in the marketplace.

Under current federal law, conventional fuel cannot contain more than 10 percent ethanol, known as E10, but proponents for higher mid-level blends would like to replace the current gasoline mixture with higher levels of ethanol, which would change the fuel used in vehicles and small engines.


GM’s concerns with higher ethanol blends include the capability of our engines and fuel systems to handle them. Anecdotally, some might do fine. But there are 250 million vehicles on the road in the U.S. and only about 7 million of them are designed to handle higher ethanol blends.
post resumes below image

The 2009 E85 Ethanol-Capable Buick Lucerne. GM has sold over 3.0
million flexfuel cars in the U.S., operable on any mixture of gasoline
and ethanol up to 85% ethanol. Conventional engines, however, are
not necessarily equipped to run on ethanol mixes greater than 15%.
(Photo: GM)

In addition, there are marine and industrial engines, plus a host of outboards, lawn and garden equipment, motorcycles and various off-road vehicles that would be impacted as well. None of this equipment was designed to use mid-level ethanol blends and some was not designed to use ethanol at all.

Higher ethanol blends run hotter in many non-flex-fuel equipped vehicles and virtually all of the non-automotive equipment, and the way this process works is that a small change in temperature produces a very large change in behavior.

The biggest question is long-term durability. The only durability study conducted on these fuels to date was done for the Australian Department of the Environment (ref. Fuel Quality Publications, Australian Government).

It found corrosion, seal attack, and catalyst damage due to the engine control system’s failure to adapt to the ethanol and using the wrong mixture at high power.

When the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released its preliminary test findings on E15 and E20 last month, little was said about six of 13 vehicles tested exhibiting catalyst overheating. A damaged catalyst is less effective at eliminating pollutants and allows increased tailpipe pollution. The leaner fuel mixture – ethanol is 35 percent oxygen – also lead to drivability and operability issues in older vehicles and non-automotive equipment.

GM is working with other automakers, the oil industry, DOE and EPA to develop and execute test programs to determine and document the effects of these higher blends on the existing fleet. This work takes time.

At GM, we think E85 ethanol is the best alternative to petroleum in the near term, but in order for ethanol, or any alternative fuel, to succeed it needs the good will of the public and government behind it. Prematurely implementing a higher ethanol blend that damages the gasoline-fueled equipment could cause irreparable harm to ethanol’s reputation. And ethanol took a big hit with the Australian public following the introduction of mid-level blends in limited areas. This is what prompted the Australian Department of the Environment to fund the E20 study performed by Orbital Engine Co.

GM has worked to expand the E85 infrastructure in this country, assisting more than 300 stations in 15 states with securing state and other grants to help offset the cost of installing E85 pumps. We are now implementing a partnership with the National Governors Association to help 10 states grow their E85 infrastructure (ref. States to Enhance Access to E85 Fueling Stations, National Governors Association).

Our commitment to E85 includes making 50 percent of our vehicles capable of running on gasoline, E85 or any combination of the two by 2012, provided there is sufficient infrastructure in place. Let’s be clear about the math: No combination of mid-level blends will add up to enough ethanol use to meet the Renewable Fuels Standard that calls for 36 billion gallons of ethanol a year by 2022.

E85, which is an alternative fuel vs. a fuel additive, is a choice we provide free to GM customers. We know choice can work, as it has in Brazil and Sweden, where governments required fueling infrastructure to support FFVs. Customers typically choose between ethanol and gasoline, depending on which is the best deal.

The bottom line is GM supports and encourages greater ethanol fuel availability for our flex-fuel vehicles, but we are concerned about customers misfueling conventional vehicles by using fuels containing more than 10 percent ethanol. The long-term durability of higher ethanol blends in conventional engines needs to be tested thoroughly because advocates are proposing to change gasoline for all of us, forever.

Coleman Jones is the Biofuels Implementation Manager at General Motors.


10 Responses to “Mid-Level Ethanol Blends & Impact on Automakers”
  1. bustanut says:

    GM ‘s sudden stewardship of the environment is simply a way to continue to make gas guzzlers thanks to E85 an extremely inefficient fuel. The CAFE standards call for all car companies to achieve an average MPG for all vehicles. I believe the most recent number is 27 MPG. Well if you make the biggest money off of 10 miles per gallon SUV’s you would hate to say good bye to them wouldn’t you?
    The CAFE standards has a loophole, that being that an E85 vehicle operating on E85 miles per gallon are ONLY figured against the actual amount of gasoline in the blend (15%) if you divide 100% fuel by 15% gasoline you get the multiplier to the mpg (666) therefore a gas guzzling 10 MPG SUV is given credit for 66.6 MPG. If you sell one SUV like this you can have 5 vehicles only achieving 20 MPG and this gas guzzling SUV and you average more than 27 MPG overall while not one of their vehicles really met the standard.
    GM is not the only one taking advantage of this free ride Ford and Chrysler are too. The big three are heading down the toilet and this is just their hands clinging to the rim.

  2. Alan Adler says:

    I work at GM in Biofuels Communications and once even worked at the Hummer Division – in the days when we could not get the H2 out of the factory fast enough for people who had to have them and – gasp! – thought they were cool. Times change. We built and sold a lot of full-size SUVs because that is what people were buying. Did we make money doing it? Yes. And someone has to explain to me how that is a bad thing. Now we are making more crossover vehicles and cars because that is what people say they want. Customers choose what they buy and don’t buy. We try to make what people want and sometimes we get it right and on time and sometimes we miss the mark. But what we mostly offer is choice, including 18 flex-fuel capable models for 2009 that run on E85, ordinary gasoline or any combination of the two. As to bustanut’s finger wagging over the a CAFE credit for E85, that credit applied to about a third of the flex-fuel vehicles we built in 2007. Do we get a CAFE credit for some of the flex-fuel SUVs we make? Yes. That same credit phases out in 2014, and we remain committed to making 50 percent of our vehicles flex-fuel capable by 2012. So, yes, we’ll take the CAFE credit, but that is not the motivation for offering flex-fuel vehicles. Nothing is doing more to offset the demand for oil, regardless of the fluctuating price, than ethanol. It is blended at 10 percent into more than half the gasoline sold in the US and can be used at 85 percent in more than 7 million vehicles. By the Energy Department’s broadest measure, U.S. dependence on imported oil has fallen from 60.3 percent in 2005 to 56.4 percent in the first half of 2008. Ethanol is part of the reason for that but it is not a silver bullet. GM is also working to improve the fuel efficiency of the internal combustation engine; offer more hybrid models; get the extended-range electrically powered Chevrolet Volt on the road by the end of 2010, and improve the cost and performance of hydrogen fuel cells to the point where they can be viable. It’s a plate full of advanced propulsion technologies with a lot of proof points.

  3. Pablo says:

    I run E-50 in my Toyota Tacoma with no ill effects. Just add a gallon of E-85 to your car when you fill up, then one more gallon the next fillup until you see where your can throws off a check engine light, then back it down 5%. Please don’t go and fill up the whole tank of E-85. The ethanol will dissolve all the crap that has been deposited in your gas tank after many fillups of gasoline. This will plug your fuel filter, but your tank will be as clean as new. 1 gallon at a time dissolves the gunk slowly and will not cause your filter to clog.

  4. Lynne Benson says:

    If we get cellulosic ethanol available in large quantities we are going to have to be able to design cars that can run on mid-blends and E85, or we’ll have too much ethanol fuel. Is there a way to have my standard gasoline car converted to do this safely?

  5. Bea says:

    A gallon of ethanol per 12-20 gallons should be fine. Back in the ‘old’ days we used to have this stuff called gasohol that was 5 to 10 percent ethanol or methanol (Carter started it during the fuel crunch, funny how we forget the past, to stretch US supplies of oil and gasoline).

  6. edward wheeler says:

    Forget ethanol and build autos to run on natural gas, the cleanest burning fossil fuel there is. The best use for ethanol is to store it for 7 years in newly made oak barrels in Tennessee, then bottle it under the name of “Jack Daniels old number 7″. If one drinks enough of it, one won’t be worrying about air pollution or global warming!

  7. Brian J. Donovan says:

    Louisiana Enacts the Most Comprehensive Advanced Biofuel Legislation in the Nation
    __________________

    Advanced Biofuel Industry Development Initiative Benefits Consumers, Farmers and Gas Station Owners with Localized “Field-to-Pump” Strategy

    Baton Rouge, LA (November 18, 2008) – Governor Bobby Jindal has signed into law the Advanced Biofuel Industry Development Initiative, the most comprehensive and far-reaching state legislation in the nation enacted to develop a statewide advanced biofuel industry. Louisiana is the first state to enact alternative transportation fuel legislation that includes a variable blending pump pilot program and a hydrous ethanol pilot program.

    Field-to-Pump Strategy
    The legislature found that the proper development of an advanced biofuel industry in Louisiana requires implementation of the following comprehensive “field-to-pump” strategy developed by Renergie, Inc.:

    (1) Feedstock Other Than Corn
    (a) derived solely from Louisiana harvested crops;
    (b) capable of an annual yield of at least 600 gallons of ethanol per acre;
    (c) requiring no more than one-half of the water required to grow corn;
    (d) tolerant to high temperature and waterlogging;
    (e) resistant to drought and saline-alkaline soils;
    (f) capable of being grown in marginal soils, ranging from heavy clay to light sand;
    (g) requiring no more than one-third of the nitrogen required to grow corn, thereby reducing the risk of contamination of the waters of the state; and
    (h) requiring no more than one-half of the energy necessary to convert corn into ethanol.

    (2) Decentralized Network of Small Advanced Biofuel Manufacturing Facilities
    Smaller is better. The distributed nature of a small advanced biofuel manufacturing facility network reduces feedstock supply risk, does not burden local water supplies and provides for broader based economic development. Each advanced biofuel manufacturing facility operating in Louisiana will produce no less than 5 million gallons of advanced biofuel per year and no more than 15 million gallons of advanced biofuel per year.

    (3) Market Expansion
    Advanced biofuel supply and demand shall be expanded beyond the 10% blend market by blending fuel-grade anhydrous ethanol with gasoline at the gas station pump. Variable blending pumps, directly installed and operated at local gas stations by a qualified small advanced biofuel manufacturing facility, shall offer the consumer a less expensive substitute for unleaded gasoline in the form of E10, E20, E30 and E85.

    Pilot Programs
    (1) Advanced Biofuel Variable Blending Pumps – The blending of fuels with advanced biofuel percentages between 10 percent and 85 percent will be permitted on a trial basis until January 1, 2012. During this period the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Division of Weights & Measures will monitor the equipment used to dispense the ethanol blends to ascertain that the equipment is suitable and capable of producing an accurate measurement.

    (2) Hydrous Ethanol – The use of hydrous ethanol blends of E10, E20, E30 and E85 in motor vehicles specifically selected for test purposes will be permitted on a trial basis until January 1, 2012. During this period the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Division of Weights & Measures will monitor the performance of the motor vehicles. The hydrous blends will be tested for blend optimization with respect to fuel consumption and engine emissions. Preliminary tests conducted in Europe have proven that the use of hydrous ethanol, which eliminates the need for the hydrous-to-anhydrous dehydration processing step, results in an energy savings of between ten percent and forty-five percent during processing, a four percent product volume increase, higher mileage per gallon, a cleaner engine interior, and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

    Act No. 382, entitled “The Advanced Biofuel Industry Development Initiative,” was co-authored by 27 members of the Legislature. The original bill was drafted by Renergie, Inc. Representative Jonathan W. Perry (R – District 47), with the support of Senator Nick Gautreaux (D – District 26), was the primary author of the bill. Reflecting on the signing of Act No. 382 into law, Brian J. Donovan, CEO of Renergie, Inc. said, “I am pleased that the legislature and governor of the great State of Louisiana have chosen to lead the nation in moving ethanol beyond being just a blending component in gasoline to a fuel that is more economical, cleaner, renewable, and more efficient than unleaded gasoline. The two pilot programs, providing for an advanced biofuel variable blending pump trial and a hydrous ethanol trial, established by the State of Louisiana should be adopted by each and every state in our country.”

    State Agencies Must Purchase or Lease Vehicles That Use Alternative Fuels
    Louisiana’s Advanced Biofuel Industry Development Initiative further states, “The commissioner of administration shall not purchase or lease any motor vehicle for use by any state agency unless that vehicle is capable of and equipped for using an alternative fuel that results in lower emissions of oxides of nitrogen, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, or particulates or any combination thereof that meet or exceed federal Clean Air Act standards.”

    Advanced Biofuel Price Preference for State Agencies
    Louisiana’s Advanced Biofuel Industry Development Initiative provides that a governmental body, state educational institution, or instrumentality of the state that performs essential governmental functions on a statewide or local basis is entitled to purchase E20, E30 or E85 advanced biofuel at a price equal to fifteen percent (15%) less per gallon than the price of unleaded gasoline for use in any motor vehicle.

    Economic Benefits
    The development of an advanced biofuel industry will help rebuild the local and regional economies devastated as a result of hurricanes Katrina and Rita by providing:
    (1) increased value to the feedstock crops which will benefit local farmers and provide more revenue to the local community;
    (2) increased investments in plants and equipment which will stimulate the local economy by providing construction jobs initially and the chance for full-time employment after the plant is completed;
    (3) secondary employment as associated industries develop due to plant co-products becoming available at a competitive price; and
    (4) increased local and state revenues collected from plant operations will stimulate local and state tax revenues and provide funds for improvements to the community and to the region.

    “Representative Perry and Senator Gautreaux have worked tirelessly to craft comprehensive advanced biofuel legislation which will maximize rural development, benefit consumers, farmers and gas station owners while also protecting the environment and reducing the burden on local water supplies,” said Donovan. “Representative Perry, Senator Gautreaux, and Dr. Strain, Commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, should be praised for their leadership on this issue.”

    About Renergie
    Renergie was formed by Ms. Meaghan M. Donovan on March 22, 2006 for the purpose of raising capital to develop, construct, own and operate a network of ten ethanol plants in the parishes of the State of Louisiana which were devastated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Each ethanol plant will have a production capacity of five million gallons per year (5 MGY) of fuel-grade ethanol. Renergie’s “field-to-pump” strategy is to produce non-corn ethanol locally and directly market non-corn ethanol locally. On February 26, 2008, Renergie was one of 8 recipients, selected from 139 grant applicants, to share $12.5 million from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Renewable Energy Technologies Grants Program. Renergie received $1,500,483 (partial funding) in grant money to design and build Florida’s first ethanol plant capable of producing fuel-grade ethanol solely from sweet sorghum juice. On April 2, 2008, Enterprise Florida, Inc., the state’s economic development organization, selected Renergie as one of Florida’s most innovative technology companies in the alternative energy sector. By blending fuel-grade ethanol with gasoline at the gas station pump, Renergie will offer the consumer a fuel that is more economical, cleaner, renewable, and more efficient than unleaded gasoline. Moreover, the Renergie project will mark the first time that Louisiana farmers will share in the profits realized from the sale of value-added products made from their crops.

    Please feel free to visit Renergie’s weblog (www.renergie.wordpress.com) for more information.

  8. Spikey says:

    I used to feel very positive about next-gen biofuels (e.g. cellulosic ethanol, algae biodiesel). However, over the past year, I’ve become increasingly convinced that the future of transportation lies with electrification rather than improved liquid fuels.

    That’s not to say that natural gas and next-gen biofuels can’t play a part, but the focus going into improving battery technology right now leads me to believe that this is ultimately where things are headed.

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