Paul Kenney grows corn on his family’s 100-year-old farm and proudly fills his pickup truck with corn-derived ethanol fuel.
“I own a flex-fuel pickup truck and fill it with E85,” says Kenney, a fifth-generation corn, soybean and cattle farmer in central Nebraska. “One, ethanol is my product and two, it’s a lot better for my health and the environment, and it’s been very cost effective.”
Throughout Nebraska, consumers who choose ethanol at the pump save money, make better choices for their health and the environment, and support local jobs. Throw attributes of “homegrown” and “renewable” into the conversation, and a lot of good can flow from that single tank of fuel.
Kim Clark, a mother of two young children, advocates for ethanol for her family and the Nebraska economy.
“Just like other consumers, I look at pricing at the pump, and I want fuel that contains ethanol because I’m concerned about carcinogens,” says Clark, director of biofuels development for the Nebraska Corn Board. “I also have a vehicle that’s newer than 2001, so when I can find E15, I use that. I’m saving money and I’m also making the environment better, and it’s better for my health and my family’s health.”
Higher octane fuels improve vehicle performance, as NASCAR has proved with its adoption of E15, Clark says. Ethanol improves octane without the carcinogens of other gasoline additives, she says. Meanwhile, ethanol reduces carbon dioxide emissions by an average of 34 percent compared to gasoline, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.
Support At The Pump
Almost all Nebraska gas stations carry E10, which is a blend of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline. Other choices may include E15, E30 or E85, which include 15, 30 and 85 percent ethanol, respectively. Only flex-fuel vehicles can use E85.
Flex-fuel vehicles can be readily identified by checking for a sticker inside the fuel door or on the gas cap. Flex-fuel vehicles may also have a yellow gas cap or a badge on the back or side of the vehicle, according to Todd Sneller, administrator of the Nebraska Ethanol Board. There are approximately 200,000 flex-fuel vehicles licensed in Nebraska but many people may not realize they have one. Vehicles 2001 or newer can use E15. About 80 percent of vehicles today fall into that category, so most Nebraska drivers can choose E15, says Sneller.
“In each case, those fuels are less expensive than their gasoline counterpart,” he says. “Ethanol is a product produced from Nebraska corn and the industry creates thousands of Nebraska jobs.”
Nebraska ranks No. 2 in ethanol production in the United States. The ethanol plants make other products, too, such as corn oil, carbon dioxide for beverage and industrial uses, and distiller’s grain, a high-value livestock feed. About 25 percent of the Nebraska corn supply is used to produce ethanol.
“Most people do not realize the kind of corn used for ethanol is not the same kind of corn they eat for dinner,” Clark says.
Nebraska’s ethanol industry supports 3,000 full-time jobs, according to the Nebraska Ethanol Board. Ethanol also saves Nebraska drivers $200 million a year in lower fuel costs, Sneller says. An E10 blend often costs 20 to 30 cents less per gallon than gasoline with no ethanol. Even with the slightly lower fuel economy, ethanol-enriched fuel saves money per mile, Sneller says.
Processing Plant-Based Fuel
At its most basic, making ethanol involves cooking the corn, mixing it with enzymes and then evaporating the alcohol, says Kenney, also board president of KAAPA Ethanol LLC, an ethanol plant in Minden, in south-central Nebraska. KAAPA Ethanol produces 63 million gallons of ethanol and 518,000 tons of wet distiller’s grains annually from 22 million bushels of corn.
Kenney encourages his fellow consumers to consider the highest ethanol blend that performs in their vehicles because corn ethanol proves as important to Nebraska as oil is to Saudi Arabia.
“Do you think oil is important to Saudi Arabia? It’s what built the Middle East,” Kenney says. “Nebraska has the opportunity to use the fuel they produce, which is a huge benefit to our economy.”