E85 use back on the rise in Minnesota

Back in February, I asked: Are Minnesotans voting no on E85?

Thumbnail image for minnecon.smallicon.gif

I wrote, “While use of the fuel (85 percent corn-based ethanol and 15 percent gasoline) is rising in government fleets, overall E85 sales fell more than 25 percent from 2008 to 2009 following years of big increases.”

Recent data from the state Commerce Department, however, show E85 consumption climbing back toward pre-recession levels. (Click on the chart for a larger view)


In the worst parts of the recession, fuel use, including E85, dropped significantly, and the cost gap narrowed between gasoline and the typically lower priced E85. Those were the chief reasons consumption dropped.

The price gap widened again earlier this year as average regular gasoline prices ran above $2.70 a gallon most of the spring in Minnesota, while E85 averaged $2.20 to $2.26, which explains why the use of E85 is on the upswing again.

I eat my words!

  • Bravo, Sir!

    Thanks for taking a second look at the numbers. We have been seeing the same trend. Recently, a Litchfield, MN station sold 1,972 gallons of E85 during a 3-hour promotion.

    E85 sales are certainly coming back.

    Bob Moffitt

    Communications Director

    Clean Fuel & Vehicle Technologies

    American Lung Association in Minnesota

  • Paul / MinnEcon

    Bob, thanks, I think!

    I’m a free market guy at heart and still wonder about the benefits of E85 compared to its economic and environmental costs. But the fact is consumption began climbing again after my post and I needed to highlight that. Cheers.

  • (From a news release I sent out today)

    Minnesota’s state agencies continue to make steady progress in their effort to reduce the amount of petroleum consumed by publically-owned vehicles. During the first two quarters of the year, state agencies used 437,063 gallons of E85, a cleaner burning fuel consisting of up to 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. That represents a nearly 25 percent increase over the amount used during the same period in 2009, according to Tim Morse, chair of the SmartFleet Committee, a group tasked with helping agencies comply with Executive Order 04-10, issued by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

    The Faribault Academies, a campus of educational facilities serving deaf and blind Minnesotans, topped all others in the SmartFleet quarterly report, using E85 75 percent of the time they bought fuel. Another standout was the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, which reported 73 percent E85 use during the first half of the calendar year. In terms of sheer volume of E85 used, the state Department of Transportation used 170,617 gallons of cleaner-burning E85 in six months, compared to 376,312 gallons of gasoline and 690,798 gallons of B5 biodiesel blend fuel.

    “This continued progress shows that the State of Minnesota is serious about its stated goal to reduce its petroleum consumption,” said Kelly Marczak, director for the American Lung Association in Minnesota’s clean fuel and vehicle technologies program and a member of the SmartFleet Committee. “In just six months, the state’s use of E85 in 2010 prevented more than 1,745 tons of lifecycle carbon dioxide emissions and harmful pollutants from entering our air.” In addition, the 5% biodiesel blend prevented 290 lbs of particulate matter, 400 lbs of hydrocarbons, 3,000 lbs of carbon monoxide and 700,000 lbs of carbon dioxide emissions.

    The American Lung Association in Minnesota supports the use of E85 and biodiesel fuels in both public and private vehicles, as part of an overall strategy to reduce and prevent air pollution. For a complete listing of all 355 E85 stations in Minnesota, as well as a list of all flex fuel vehicles that can use the ethanol-based fuel, see http://www.CleanAirChoice.org

  • Roger

    Alcohol is already partially “burned” because its molecule contains 2 carbon, 1 oxygen, and 6 hydrogen atoms. One of the hydrogen atoms is alteady attached to the oxygen atom. When it loses that carbon link, it will grab another hydrogen. So the net burnable products are 4 hydrogen and 2 carbon atoms. Together they will grab 6 oxygen atoms and sail away as two CO2 molecules and two H2O molecules plus another H2O that came along for the ride.

    Gasoline is a mixed bag of hydrocarbon molecules along with other stuff we do not want that still burns (like sulfur). Please cut me some slack while I use octane for the comparison. Octane contains 8 carbon and 18 hydrogen atoms. Together, they will grab 25 oxygen atoms before they sail away as 8 CO2 molecules and 9 H2O molecules with no free riders.

    Gasoline requires anti-knock additives to make it behave. Alcohol is actually useful as an anti-knock additive. It is also a lot purer than gasoline. It requires higher compression ratios to capture its energy more efficiently. Therefore, engines that are tuned to use E85 best cannot burn gasoline.

    CO2 liberates more energy per molecule than H2O. Fewer alcohol molecules occupy the same space at a given pressure than gasoline. Therefore, gasoline will give better mileage per gallon than alcohol.

    Alcohol is a more potent solvent than gasoline. It will eat through hoses and seals that gasoline will not bother. Unburned alcohol also dilutes crankcase oil. That is why vehicles (and their lubricants) that use fuels containing alcohol must be designed to withstand this solvent effect.

    Alcohol and gasoline both consume energy to generate the fuel product dispensed at the pump. Alsohol requires a lot more energy than light sweet crude oil to manufacture it. Oil requires a lot more energy to transport it from the wellhead to the refinery. Yes, these are generalizations. However, this is supposed to be a comment, not a book.

    Bottom line, government subsidy is getting in the way of progress and skewing decision-makers toward less-rational behavior. It is time for government to get out of the way.