E15 and Other Ethanol Fuels Hold the Secret to Cleaner Air
Americans have a love affair with their cars. Nothing screams ‘America’ quite like hitting the open road, with the wind in your hair and the highway stretching out in front of you, offering up the possibility of unknown adventures. What most people don’t know is that behind every car driving on the road are unseen chemicals that are damaging our environment and our health in the United States. Fortunately, there’s a solution that can keep our beloved cars on the road and help stem the spread of these chemicals: ethanol fuel, and more specifically, E15.
Relatively new to the marketplace, E15 is a blend of 15% American Ethanol and 85% ordinary unleaded gasoline, as opposed to standard unleaded fuel that is blended with 10% ethanol. E15 has been approved for use in all passenger vehicles that are 2001 models or newer, which represents about 85% of the cars, trucks and SUVs on the road today. E15 can also be used in all flex fuel vehicles, which can use any blend up to E85 or 85% ethanol.
E15 increases the amount of ethanol added to gasoline, compared to the typical unleaded fuel with 10% ethanol (E10). As a result, E15 may help reduce the cost consumers are paying at the pump. It also improves engine performance and further reduces toxic tailpipe emissions. E15 is safe and approved for many cars, trucks and SUVs on the road today, and it’s becoming more widely available across Nebraska and the nation.
Ethanol has become a major player in America’s fuel supply. Why? As a renewable biofuel, ethanol is doing more for the environment. The addition of ethanol to fuel reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 43%.
Ethanol, especially higher blends such as E15 and above, contributes to solving the environmental and health problems associated with mobile sources of air pollution, which are primarily the vehicles we see on the road.
Typically, gasoline refiners have added toxic components such as benzene, toluene and xylene to gasoline in order to increase the octane number. This helps to prevent engine “knock” and improve engine performance. But those toxic additives don’t combust completely in the engine and end up coming out of the tailpipe and into the air we breathe.
“One of the worst things found in gasoline is benzene, a known human carcinogen,” explained Angela Tin, vice president of Environmental Health for the American Lung Association. “When we breathe it deep into our lungs, it can cause cell mutation and lung cancer. If we can remove the toxic components of gasoline and replace them with ethanol, whether it’s ten percent, fifteen percent, eighty-five percent, the more we can replace gasoline with ethanol, the better it is for our lung health.”
Ethanol is a clean, less toxic way to improve the octane rating while improving engine performance. The increased oxygen in ethanol helps fuel burn completely, which reduces harmful tailpipe emissions. By choosing E15 and other, higher ethanol blends, consumers can help improve air quality simply by making the “clean air choice” at the pump.
Reducing air pollution from vehicles has huge human health implications. The Center for Disease Control says that an estimated 30% to 45% of Americans in large urban areas live near major roads “suggesting increased exposure to traffic-related air pollution and risk of adverse health outcomes.”1
More than 45 million people in the U.S. live, work or go to school within 300 feet of a major road, airport or railroad.2 Clearly, the impact of toxic emissions from roadway traffic is cause for grave concern.
Over the last 13 years with the American Lung Association, Angela Tin has become determined to make the public aware of the way that switching to biofuels such as ethanol benefits our health, but also helps cities comply with federal clean air standards.
Tin, a passionate advocate for the use of ethanol blended fuels, was aware of the benefits of ethanol when she was working at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. “At the IEPA, I was involved in regulatory and compliance programs. The U.S. EPA developed regulations to “clean up the new cars’, and they’ve done a great job. Cars today are a lot cleaner than they were before, but there are a lot more cars than there used to be,” Tin said. “Today, people own more cars, drive extra miles, and keep older cars longer. So, while pollution from individual new vehicles are decreasing, the number of vehicle miles travelled has gone up, it’s quadrupled.”
“There are federal clean air standards and there are also global warming concerns and while most industries are complying, power plants are complying, mobile sources of air pollution have not decreased. These mobile sources are the vehicles we drive,” said Tin. “We as individuals can do something about it if we buy ethanol blended fuel, instead of just fueling on ordinary gasoline. We can make a clean air choice to reduce the gasoline components put into the air simply by choosing E15 and other higher blends at the pump.”
No one expects Americans to stop driving, or even to drive less. But choosing E15 at the pump is a simple thing that almost everyone can do to help address these air quality issues. “It’s like recycling. No one forced people to recycle. People learned about the benefits of recycling and how it harms our environment if we don’t do it,” said Tin. “Children learned about it in school and brought it home to their parents. And it costs money to recycle; it’s not cheap. You have to find the places to recycle, you have to take extra steps and clean containers, and you have to segregate the wastes; but people do it because it’s the right thing to do. Drivers need to learn to do the right thing as well by choosing E15 at the pump.”
With such overwhelming evidence supporting the use of E15 and other ethanol blended fuels, it’s time that we as consumers make a permanent shift in the right direction. Drivers can still responsibly enjoy their cars and road trips by simply switching to higher ethanol blends such as E15. And, in the process, they enjoy the benefits of higher octane, cleaner air and lower cost.
To find E15 and other American Ethanol blends in your area, go to GetBiofuel.com/Nebraska.
1 CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 11/22/2013, National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
2 EPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality, FAQ Doc., EPA-420-F-14-044, August 2014
 A Life-Cycle Analysis of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Corn-Based Ethanol. A report prepared for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. January 2017.