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E85 FAQs and Facts

Much has been written about the role ethanol-based fuels will play in US energy policy. Here are some common questions, answers and supporting information. You’ll find helpful links to further explore each topic.

One source that will repeat is Five Ethanol Myths BustedLink opens in new window - close new window to return to this page., an article written by Forrest JehlikLink opens in new window - close new window to return to this page. of the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National LaboratoryLink opens in new window - close new window to return to this page., one of oldest and largest national laboratories for science and engineering research.

Forrest Jehlik is an engineer in the Vehicle Systems section of the Argonne National Laboratory’s Center for Transportation Research. His work focuses on the adoption of renewable fuels and sustainable fuel technologies.

Does ethanol use more energy to make than it yields?

The productivity of US farmers in growing corn is increasing, and the efficiency of ethanol production is too. In the future, cellulosic sources that replace corn as the basis for ethanol fuel production will be even more efficient. Forrest Jehlik cites all of these points in this post on wired.comLink opens in new window - close new window to return to this page..

Additional findings from the US Department of Energy (DOE):

Ethanol has a positive energy balance – that is, the energy content of ethanol is greater than the fossil energy used to produce it – and this balance is constantly improving with new technologies.

Over the last 20 years, the amount of energy needed to produce ethanol from corn has significantly decreased because of improved farming techniques, more efficient use of fertilizers and pesticides, higher-yielding crops, and more energy-efficient conversion technology.

Read more information from the DOE about the myths and facts surrounding ethanolLink opens in new window - close new window to return to this page..

Does ethanol production reduce food supplies and raise prices?

Not only is very little of our corn supply consumed by humans, but there are growing alternative biofuels made from cellulosic materials that are not food crops. There is increasing evidence that we can produce both food and fuels.

Corn prices have risen but ethanol subsidies are not the main drivers. Using the 2004 corn price of $2.06 per bushel as a reference, actual corn prices increased by an average of $1.65 per bushel from 2006 to 2009. Only 14 cents (8%) of this increase was due to ethanol subsidies. Another 45 cents of the increase was due to market-based expansion of the corn ethanol industry. Together, expansion of corn ethanol from subsidies and market CARD: The Impact of Ethanol and Ethanol forces accounted for 32 percent of the average increase that we saw in corn prices from 2006 to 2009. All other market factors accounted for 68 percent of the corn price increase.

The Impact of Ethanol and Ethanol Subsidies on Corn Prices: Revisiting History Bruce A. Babcock, Jacinto F. Fabiosa. April 2011 [11-PB 5]

Another side to this question involves Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC)— the theory that using food crops for biofuels will increase the demand for land to grow more food, leading farmers in other countries to create new farmland, usually by cutting down rainforests, to grow crops and meet the demand.

Excerpts from the US Department of Energy website:

Links between US ethanol production and land use changes elsewhere are uncertain. We cannot simply assume that increases in US ethanol production will lead to increased crop production abroad. Since 2002, during the greatest period of ethanol growth, US corn exports increased by 60 percent and exports of Distiller’s Dried Grains (DDGs) also increased steadily. In part, improvements in U.S. corn yield (about 1.6 percent annually since 1980) have enabled simultaneous growth in corn and ethanol production.

Greenhouse gas emissions will decrease dramatically as biofuels of the future are increasingly made from cellulosic feedstocks and as the associated farming, harvesting, transport, and production processes increasingly use clean, renewable energy sources.

Read more information from the DOE about the myths and facts surrounding ethanolLink opens in new window - close new window to return to this page..

Does ethanol emit more greenhouse gases than gasoline?

US Government studies show ethanol reduces tailpipe carbon monoxide as much as 30 percent and tailpipe particulate matter emissions by 50 percent. And blending ethanol with gasoline dramatically reduces carbon monoxide tailpipe emissions and tailpipe emissions of volatile organic compounds that form ozone. Read more in Forrest Jehlik’s wired.com postLink opens in new window - close new window to return to this page..

Additional findings by the US Department of Energy:

  • In the future, ethanol produced from cellulose has the potential to cut life cycle GHG emissions by up to 60 percent relative to gasoline.
  • Ethanol blended fuels currently in the market – whether E10 or E85 – meet stringent tailpipe emission standards.
  • Ethanol readily biodegrades without harm to the environment, and is a safe, high-performance replacement for fuel additives such as MTBE, a compound commonly added to gasoline that helps reduce GHG emissions.

Read information from the DOE more about the myths and facts surrounding ethanolLink opens in new window - close new window to return to this page..

Does ethanol require too much water to produce?

Water is an essential ingredient in ethanol production. According to Forrest Jehlik’s description of research by Argonne National Laboratory, it currently takes about 3.5 gallons of water to produce a gallon of ethanol, only slightly more water than it takes to produce a gallon of gasoline. Additionally, Jehlik notes that ethanol is not a carcinogen and biodegrades quickly, so it doesn’t pose a risk to groundwater or the ocean.

Read more in Forrest Jehlik’s wired.com postLink opens in new window - close new window to return to this page..

Cars get lower gas mileage with ethanol.

Flex Fuel Vehicles deliver less fuel efficiency by traditional measurement, but sources listed below offer alternative ways to understand the issue.

Forrest Jehlik writes:
“If you completely burn a gallon of gasoline and a gallon of E85, you’ll get 25 percent less energy from the E85. Flex-fuel cars that run on gasoline and ethanol see 25 percent less mileage with ethanol. However, a gallon of ethanol costs approximately 17 percent less than that of a gallon of gasoline. In some, but not all, regions, the fuel-economy deficit is recovered by cheaper fuel costs. As the market grows and matures, production optimization would further drive down ethanol costs.”

Read more on the gas mileage of cars powered by ethanol in Forrest Jehlik’s wired.com postLink opens in new window - close new window to return to this page..

Last Updated: 07/01/2014