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Ethanol: The Biofuel You’re Already Using

Most people are familiar with ethanol, a biofuel, as a corn product. But many don’t know that virtually all fuel at the pumps in the United States is mixed with 90 percent petroleum-based gasoline, 10 percent ethanol—and the ethanol percentage can be increased.

Organic solutions

Ethanol is an alcohol fuel made from plant materials known as “biomass,” made from organic materials including corn, potato, sugar cane, wood waste and farm waste. All cars manufactured since 2001 are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency to operate on E15, which contains a higher 15 percent blend of ethanol with 85 percent gasoline.

For those who believe that the U.S. is too dependent on oil, ethanol is an attractive alternative, especially because it is produced domestically with American workers, and it translates to significant savings at the pump.

Renewable and sustainable

“Ethanol is renewable, and unlike fossil fuels these feedstocks can be grown annually,” said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, which represents supporters and producers of the alternative fuel. “It’s biodegradable and it has 36 percent—at a minimum—less greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline.”

There are currently about 11 million vehicles on the market today that are considered “flexible fuel”—they can run on a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline—and that number is climbing.

Because ethanol is often created from feedstocks, some claim it will take away from crops reserved for food, driving up prices. But Buis says that argument is patently false. Ethanol production requires only the starch portion of a corn kernel, leaving the remaining fat, protein fiber and other nutrients. That remainder is then used as an animal feed.

“I always say, we don’t make ethanol out of sweet corn, canned corn, popcorn or even candy corn. We make it out of animal feed corn, and that’s not what we eat.” For his part, Buis believes that Americans should have the choice to opt for a higher ethanol blend. “We want motorists to have the choice at the pump to use higher blends based on the type of vehicle they have, the performance preference and the price. The potential is really bright.”

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