Over half the gasoline sold in the US is already blended with 10% ethanol (E10), but higher blends were thought to run the risk of causing engine damage. Higher blends of ethanol, up to 85% (E85), will only work properly in engines converted to accept the fuel.

According to former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty:

“Using 40 pairs of vehicles commonly found on American roads, a year-long research effort found that increasing ethanol blends from 10 percent (E10) to 20 percent (E20) in a gallon of gasoline provided an effective fuel across a range of tests focusing on driveability and materials compatibility.

“Using homegrown renewable fuel is an important part of Americanizing our energy future and unhooking our country from foreign sources of oil. This study shows that we can safely increase the amount of ethanol blended with gasoline for use in today’s vehicles. We’re proud that Minnesota is helping lead the nation to a cleaner, more secure energy future and we’re hopeful that other states will continue to join with us in this effort.”

As Governor Pawlenty highlights, some groups have been frustrated by the slow growth of Flex-Fuel (E85 compatible) vehicles and infrastructure, not to mention the potential problem when the 15 billion gallon per year ethanol mandate (from the new Renewable Fuels Standard) is met. E10 blending might not be able to handle that much ethanol, and increases in E85 use might not make up the difference (Andrew Karsner of the DOE said it would take 100 years at current growth rates for infrastructure to get anywhere). Other state programs, like Minnesota’s target of replacing 20% of liquid fuel by with renewables by 2013, has also served to spearhead efforts to approve higher ethanol blends.

Since companies like General Motors have heavily invested in the development of Flex-Fuel vehicles, it’s clear they’d rather see a transition to new E85 compatible cars and trucks. This comes from an article in Ethanol Producer Magazine:

The idea of implementing a new mid-level ethanol fuel doesn’t appeal to everyone, especially the auto manufacturers. “We absolutely guarantee the destruction of the engine and the fuel injection system if we go the E20 route,” General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz told the Detroit Free Press. “It will not work.”

Ellen Shapiro, director of automobile fuels for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, says that while her group is entirely supportive of the growth and development of the ethanol industry and increasing the use of ethanol as a transportation fuel, there are many design-related issues that have to be investigated before E20 is widely used. “The issue with mid-level blends is that conventional vehicles are not designed to handle it, and we produce flexible-fuel vehicles that are,” Shapiro says.

While the University of Minnesota study may have come to the opposite conclusion, the emissions testing for E20 is ongoing, and the fuel still has to be recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency and Clean Air Act standards.

Source | Image: Navy.mil