It’s an agricultural product that consumers who drive a vehicle use every day. It’s good for the environment, it’s good for the pocketbook and it’s good for the Nebraska economy.
Ethanol, a novelty fuel in the 1970s, is now a staple at convenience stores and gas stations across the state. It is found most commonly in fuel blends that contain 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline. Blended at this rate, any vehicle can safely burn it.
But modern automotive technology has grown by leaps and bounds, according to Todd Sneller with the Nebraska Ethanol Board, opening up new opportunities for consumers to use higher blends of ethanol in their vehicles.
“Consumers deserve a choice at the fuel pump,” Sneller says. “Ethanol provides more fuel options and a price advantage to motorists. The ethanol blends are consistently less expensive than gasoline, and they provide economic, environmental and health benefits which appeal to many consumers.”
Sneller says in addition to the 10 percent ethanol blend, commonly called E10, consumers in Nebraska also can find blends of E15 and E85. E15 is 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline, and it can be used in vehicles manufactured in 2001 or later. According to Sneller, E15 typically has a higher octane rating and lower cost than E10. At present, E15 is somewhat hard to find, but gaining in popularity, he says.
“Retailers are seeing more demand for E15 as consumers search for fuel options that offer higher octane at a lower price than gasoline,” Sneller says.
E85 is growing in popularity as more Nebraskans purchase vehicles with flex-fuel technology. It’s easy to tell if you have a flex-fuel vehicle, Sneller says, because the gas cap, or ring around the gas port, is colored a bright yellow, the same color as the kernels of corn that make the fuel. Consumers also can look for a “flexfuel” emblem on the back of the vehicle or check the owner’s manual.
There are over 140,000 flex-fuel vehicles licensed in the state of Nebraska. Kim Clark, director of biofuels development with the Nebraska Corn Board, says as the number of flex-fuel vehicles in the state has increased, more convenience stores and gasoline retailers have added E85 to their fuel mix.
“We are starting to see retailers in large cities such as Lincoln and Norfolk install flex-fuel infrastructure,” Clark said. Consumers with flex-fuel vehicles can find E85 retailers by visiting the website E85prices.com or by downloading a flex-fuel location app on their smart phones. Existing pumps are mostly found in Omaha and along the Interstate 80 corridor. Clark says the number of pumps and the locations are growing each month.
A Nebraska Product
Ethanol is a renewable fuel that can be made from corn or other crops grown each year. In Nebraska, ethanol is mostly made from a commodity crop called field corn, or more specifically, No. 2 yellow corn. This is the kind of corn that is grown in the vast majority of corn fields across the state, says Clark, but should not be mistaken for the kind of corn that people eat.
“People do get confused by it,” Clark says. “Most of the corn you see in fields is field corn, the kind of corn used for livestock feed and ethanol. Nebraska farmers raise about 10 million acres of this kind of corn every year.”
Sweet corn, which is the variety that is palatable to people, is raised on about 1,000 acres in Nebraska.
Ethanol plants also make ethanol from another Nebraska crop called grain sorghum. According to Barb Kliment with the Nebraska Grain Sorghum Board, about a third of the grain sorghum grown in the United States is used for ethanol production.
Nebraska has 24 active ethanol plants in the state that directly employ nearly 1,200 Nebraskans and generate an additional 7,000 indirect jobs. Sneller says together those plants produce more than 2 billion gallons of ethanol every year, which requires more than 700 million bushels of grain. This volume makes Nebraska the country’s second-largest producer of the alternative fuel.
Clark notes that another reason ethanol production works well in Nebraska is because a byproduct of the process is a product called distillers grains. Distillers grains can be fed to Nebraska’s beef cattle, dairy cattle and swine.
There are a number of economic reasons Nebraskans should appreciate ethanol, Sneller says. The Nebraska Public Power District recently concluded a 2013 study to determine the impact of ethanol production on Nebraska’s economy. Contributions to the economic base of the state are $5 billion annually, with an additional $1 billion from the sales of ethanol byproducts. The ethanol plants also pay about $38 million in state and local taxes, according to the study.
Consumers also benefit from having a variety of fuel blends, says Robert White, the director of market development for the Renewable Fuels Association.
“We’ve seen annually that the cost of fuel for consumers is drastically reduced by the presence of ethanol because it adds diversity and expands the fuel supply,” he says.
More fuel options means less reliance on oil, which in turn gives consumers some relief from the high prices that come when oil inventories are low for weather or other reasons.
“If there is an event in Venezuela or the Gulf that disrupts oil production, gas prices are instantly impacted,” White says. “More than $1 a gallon in savings has been noted as a result of increased ethanol production.”
Sneller says ethanol is a significant part of the overall fuel supply in Nebraska and can be found in 85 percent of the gasoline sold here.
“Ethanol has been a major part of the fuel blends here in Nebraska since 1979,” Sneller says. “The 10 percent blends work well in any vehicle, and because ethanol is made right here in Nebraska, from Nebraska-grown corn, it’s a great way for Nebraskans to support the economy.”