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What Does E85 Have to Do with Clean Air?

February 10, 2009 - 12:00pm


While recently attending a meeting of corn growers in southwestern Minnesota, someone noticed my name tag and asked, “What’s the American Lung Association of Minnesota doing here?”

It was a good question, and the answer began 10 years ago, with a couple of U.S. Department of Energy efforts that helped Minnesota—a state with no oil wells—become a renewable energy powerhouse. Now, we are a model for other states, and even other countries.

In 1998, the U.S. Department of Energy selected the Twin Cities, Chicago, and Denver as pilot markets for E85 fuel (a mix of up to 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline for use in flexible fuel vehicles) to see if a successful fueling infrastructure and customer base could be developed. A group of interested public and private organizations formed the Minnesota E85 Project, and the American Lung Association of Minnesota was chosen to coordinate the effort on behalf of all of the partners.

Why did the American Lung Association of Minnesota (ALAMN) care about E85? Simple: exhaust emissions from vehicles are the single largest source of air pollution in Minnesota, and our organization’s mission is focused on providing healthier, cleaner air, both indoors and outdoors. Air pollution can result in more frequent respiratory infections in children due to impairment of the lung's ability to defend itself. Air pollution can also be a killer, accounting for about 60,000 premature deaths each year. We researched the lifecycle emissions data on E85 and did some testing of our own and found that using E85 can make a significant impact on emissions. Here’s what we found:

  • E85 is less volatile than gasoline, which results in fewer evaporative emissions
  • Using E85 provides significant reductions in lifecycle emissions of many harmful toxics, including benzene, and 1,3-butadiene, chemicals with carcinogenic properties
  • E85 provides important reductions in fuel lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions.

ALAMN recognizes E85 as a Clean Air Choice motorists can make today to reduce their impact on the environment and lung health. The typical flex fuel vehicle driver can prevent 4 tons of lifecycle CO2 emissions and other harmful pollutants from entering the air each year, simply by using E85 instead of gasoline.

Because of our focus on the environment and the partnerships built through the Minnesota E85 Project, ALAMN developed the Twin Cities Clean Cities Coalition, which was designated in 2001 by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities program. This statewide project is one of about 90 Clean Cities coalitions across the country, each a locally-run effort to increase the use of clean, alternative fuels, advanced vehicles, fuel blends, fuel economy, hybrid vehicles, and idle reduction. And we’re not the only American Lung Association group to form this partnership – both the Denver and Red River Valley (North Dakota) coalitions are run out of the American Lung Association as well.

In 1998 when the E85 Project began, Minnesota had only 12 E85 outlets statewide. Today, there are more than 360 E85 outlets in Minnesota, more than any other state. (Check out the Alternative Fuel Station Locator to find the E85 stations in your state.) Annual sales of cleaner-burning E85 increased from 37.5 thousand gallons in 1998 to about 23 million gallons in 2008. Over the past 10 years, these E85 sales have prevented more than 300,000 tons of lifecycle carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and other harmful pollutants from entering Minnesota’s air.

We thank all partners throughout the years that have provided the funding, manpower and creativity to develop this market; a market which provides Minnesota motorists with the ability to choose a fuel that is cleaner burning, renewable, and produced close to home.