Boy this is going to through a wrench into the "ethanol isn't the answer" crowd's number one argument.
The University of North Dakota Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) and the Minnesota Center for Automotive Research (MnCAR) conducted the research. All of the vehicles tested got better mileage with ethanol blends than the ethanol's energy content would predict, and three out of four actually traveled farther on a mid-level ethanol blend than on unleaded gasoline. I am sure the doubters are instantly wondering what arcane vehicles were used to game the results. The cars? A Toyota Camry, a Ford Fusion and two Chevrolet Impalas, one flex-fuel and one non-flex-fuel.
Some of the most purchased vehicles today.
U.S. Senator John Thune (R-SD)said of the results, "I applaud the American Coalition for Ethanol for taking action and studying the impact of intermediate blends of ethanol. I am encouraged by the findings of this study, which should benefit the federal regulatory process for approving higher blends of ethanol."
Brett Hulsey, president of Better Environmental Solutions said, "These studies show that moderate 20-30 percent ethanol blends can reduce air pollution, improve gas mileage, and save drivers money in the most popular cars on the road today. Moderate ethanol blends are homegrown in America, can be delivered with existing pumps to current vehicles, and cost less than gasoline. Ethanol lowers CO2 emissions 20 percent from gasoline, making it one of our most effective greenhouse gas reduction programs currently in place."
Here is the best part. In addition to improved fuel economy findings, the study provides strong evidence that standard, non-flex-fuel vehicles can operate on ethanol blends beyond E10. The three non-flex-fuel vehicles tested operated up to E65 before any engine fault codes were displayed.
Emissions results for the ethanol blends were favorable for nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and nonmethane organic gases, showing an especially significant reduction in CO2 emissions for each vehicle's "optimal" ethanol blend (E20 for the flex-fuel Chevy, E30 for the Toyota and Ford, E40 for the non-flex Chevy).
Ethanol's energy content was not found to be a direct predictor of fuel economy. A fuel's energy content in British Thermal Units (Btu) is current standard practice for estimating fuel economy, a method that, because of ethanol's lower Btu value, leads to estimates of decreased fuel economy in proportion to the percentage of ethanol in the fuel blend.
-- This research, however, did not find ethanol's Btu content to be a direct predictor of fuel economy. All four vehicles tested exhibited better fuel economy with the ethanol blends than the Btu-value estimates predicted.
E20 and E30 ethanol blends outperformed unleaded gasoline in fuel economy tests for certain autos. Contrary to Btu-based estimates of fuel economy for ethanol blends, three of the four vehicles tested achieved their highest fuel efficiency not on gasoline, but on an ethanol blend. Mid-level blends of ethanol E20 (20% ethanol, 80% gasoline) and E30 (30% ethanol, 70% gasoline) offered the best fuel economy in these tests.
-- E30 offered better fuel economy than gasoline (a 1% increase) in both the Toyota and the Ford.
-- E20 offered better fuel economy than gasoline (a 15% increase) in the flex-fuel Chevrolet.
Here is the funny thing. I have looked for an actual study on ethanols mpg claims and have yet to find one. Everything I have found simple says that based on the BTU of the products, this is how it will perform vs gas. Did anyone actually do a test before these claims were thrown around to become "accepted fact"?
I had an interesting email back and forth with a Sunoco employee this past week who harped on this very topic. She said that making Detroit give us better mpg was the answer, not ethanol. They are but the new levels will not bew in full force until 2022. Really want to wait that long? Me either. I guess I would have to say, doesn't this study prove ethanol does just that? When you consider you get the added kicker of a 20% instant reduction is oil use due to the 20% ethanol blend, isn't this the perfect answer?
for ethanol producers like ADM (ADM), The Andersons (ANDE), Verasun (VSE), and Pacific Ethanol (PEIX) who have seen shares stagnate or tumble the past year as ethanol's critics have gained considerable traction, this study ought to light a fire under their prospective PR and R&D departments to get the word out and continue the research on other vehicles.
Ethanol is not the "only" answer to our dependence on oil. It is however, the "only" one we can do today on a massive scale that will actually make a difference.