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Why is there Ethanol in Gasoline?

By: StaffPublished September 24, 2021

You might have heard a lot of talk about ethanol lately and are wondering: "Why is there Ethanol in Gasoline?" Is it safe for your car? How about for the environment? When the U.S. government issued amendments to the Clean Air Act in the 1990s, one requirement included the use of oxygenated gasoline that would help fuel burn off more completely in combustion. A favored oxygenate, MTBE (methyl tert-butyl ether), was used until it started showing up in high concentrations in drinking water in 1995 due to spilled gasoline and leaky containers underground. That’s when ethanol came in. Ethanol, an alcohol made from crops, was widely viewed as a safer substitute to MTBE. Today, most regular gasoline has at least a trace of ethanol in it. If some are to be believed, ethanol-gasoline mixtures can negatively impact both vehicles and the environment. But is this really something to worry about? Since there are always two sides to a story, this post will explain both so you know enough about the issue to make your call.

This side will tell you that there’s nothing to worry about when it comes to ethanol in gasoline. Many vehicles today are capable of running on 10 percent ethanol (E10), and car computer systems are sophisticated enough to monitor and regulate engines and exhaust levels. Even older vehicles are generally safe with low ethanol concentrations—at most, a carburetor in a 1980s model may need to be looked at to run on oxygenated fuels successfully. The Don’t-Sweat-Its also argue that E10 blends aren’t going to cause significant damage to the environment. Since ethanol in gasoline allows fuel to burn more completely, cleaner emissions are produced, and these benefit air quality more than straight gasoline emissions would.

The other side argues that there are many problems related to ethanol in gasoline, especially when fuel blends contain more than 10 percent alcohol. The Protestors cite studies from years back that prove that too much alcohol in a standard engine will damage its parts and poorly affect its performance. Classic cars and pre-1980s engines can be at high risk for damage unless they are modified to be compatible with higher ethanol fuel blends. Miles per gallon studies were also conducted, and several found that MPGs decreased with E10. Moreover, this side says that consumers are often ill-informed of these dangers by the companies that profit from gasoline sales. No matter what side you’re on, you should know some of the facts and history dealing with ethanol in gasoline so that you’re prepared to make an informed decision the next time you’re at the pump.

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