Biofuels are transportation fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel that are made from biomass materials. These fuels are usually blended with petroleum fuels (gasoline and diesel fuel), but they can also be used on their own.
Ethanol is a renewable, plant-based fuel. In Minnesota most ethanol is produced from field corn, not the sweet corn we enjoy fresh off the cob, frozen or canned. Ethanol can also be made from other sugary or starchy crops like sugar cane, wheat, sorghum, and potatoes.
Nearly all of Minnesota’s ethanol plants use a dry mill process. To make ethanol using a dry milling process, field corn is ground into a coarse flour-like substance. It’s then mixed with water to form a mash. By adding enzymes, yeast and heat, the starchy mash converts to sugar, and then the sugar converts to alcohol. The liquid is then separated from the remaining solids. The liquid, at this point, is now called ethanol and is distilled and denaturanted to make it undrinkable. The solids become a high-protein livestock feed and other products.
More than 99 percent of the corn grown in the United States is field corn. Field corn is harvested when the kernels are fully matured and dried. Field corn is primary used for livestock feed, ethanol production and other manufactured products. A small portion is processed for use as corn cereal, corn starch, corn oil and corn syrup. Sweet corn is enjoyed fresh off the cob, frozen or canned. This type of corn is picked when the kernels are immature, which is why sweet corn is soft and sweet.
Ethanol helps decrease fuel and transportation costs, which can be the most expensive part of food production. According to the World Bank, there is a strong correlation between oil and food prices.
Ethanol is also made from field corn; not the sweet corn we eat fresh, frozen, or canned.
No, the corn ethanol industry does not receive federal subsidies for tax incentives. The Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (which was also known as the “blender’s tax credit”) expired in 2011. A state ethanol producer payment program, which applied to ethanol plants, not farmers, ended in 2012. And in 1980, Minnesota reduced the state fuel tax on gasoline that contains at least 10 percent ethanol by 4 cents per gallon, but that credit diminished over time and was phased out completely in 1997.
The Renewable Fuel Standard is a federal program that requires transportation fuel sold in the United States to contain a minimum volume of renewable fuels. Renewable fuels are produced from a multitude of feedstocks that make up the required volumes of the Renewable Fuel Standard. The amount of corn ethanol that can make up this volume is capped.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, even though the process of producing ethanol requires fossil fuels (for example, fuel used by tractors to plant the crop), it takes only 1 unit of fossil fuel to produce 2.1 units of ethanol energy. To produce gasoline, however, it takes 1 unit of fossil fuel inputs (drilling, delivery, refining, etc.) to produce .87 units of gasoline.
Using ethanol reduces harmful vehicle and greenhouse gas emissions, allowing us to all breathe a little easier. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ethanol made from corn helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 39-43 percent compared to gasoline. That’s why higher blends of ethanol are recognized as a Clean Air Choice© by the American Lung Association. Adding ethanol to gasoline also reduces emissions of pollutants such as carbon monoxide, known cancer-causing chemicals like benzene, and fine particulate matter which can cause asthma and other health issues.
Yes. The U.S. relied on imports to meet 60% of its petroleum needs in 2005. Growth in ethanol helped reduce our reliance on imports to just 20% in 2017.
Minnesota’s ethanol plants produce approximately 1.27 billion gallons of ethanol a year. The state of Minnesota ranks 4th in total U.S. ethanol production.
Ethanol production utilizes only the starch in the grain. The remaining fat & fiber are used as high protein animal feed. These feed co-products are eaten by cattle, hogs, poultry, and even fish. The ethanol industry produced roughly 41 million metric tons of animal feed in 2017. One bushel of corn (56 lbs.) makes 2.87 gallons of ethanol, 16.4 lbs. of livestock feed, and 0.75 lb. of corn distillers oil. Some ethanol plants also capture the carbon dioxide that is naturally released during the fermentation process, so it can be used for bottling carbonated beverages or dry ice.
Ethanol is already found in 98 percent of our fuel. E10, or what most drivers typically think of as regular unleaded, contains 10 percent ethanol. (Minnesota law requires all gasoline sold in the state to contain 10 percent ethanol.) Find your ethanol blend and find a station here.
E15, sometimes called Unleaded 88 or 88 Octane at the pump, is approved for use in all model year 2001 and newer vehicles by the Environmental Protection Agency. E15 is the most tested fuel in history without any fuel performance issues. Before E15 began being sold at retail locations, it was tested for more than 6 million miles using 86 vehicles from various manufacturers, makes, models and years.
Higher octane levels in your fuel means more power and efficiency. Ethanol has a naturally high octane rating of 114, while pure gasoline only has an octane rating of 84. As societal standards continue to demand more efficient cars with less greenhouse gas emissions, octane from ethanol is an environmentally-friendly and cost-saving source of power.
Flex Fuels and mid-level ethanol blends are fuels that are for use in Flex Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) only. FFVs are specifically designed to adjust to any level of ethanol in fuel between 0 and 85%, providing drivers a choice at the pump. There are more than 350,000 FFVs in Minnesota, and about 21 million FFVs on the road nationwide. Specifically, E85 is a flex fuel that contains 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. Many retailers also offer additional mid-level ethanol blends such as E25 (25% ethanol) and E30 (30% ethanol).
To determine if your vehicle is a FFV, look inside the fuel door for a decal indicating that “E85” or “Ethanol Fuel” may be used. Automakers also often use yellow fuel caps and external badges to identify a vehicle as a FFV. If it is still not clear whether your vehicle is a FFV, contact your vehicle manufacturers’ customer assistance center.
Regardless of the make and model, most of the recreational boats in the United States are approved to run on E10. The National Boat Racing Association (NBRA) and Crappie Masters use E10 for all of their races and fishing competitions. Ethanol is anhydrous, meaning it doesn’t contain water. If water enters the boat’s tank, phase separation can occur in both pure gasoline and ethanol blends.
All small engine manufacturers allow the use of E10. So, whether you need to mow the lawn or start up your snow blower, E10 is a smart choice.