We Don’t Need a Lockdown to Clear the Air

When given a choice, consumers choose higher ethanol blends. It’s important that we continue to push for more access to blender pumps across the U.S., especially in urban areas that can truly benefit from aromatics reductions and cleaner air.
By Dave VanderGriend | August 12, 2020

If we learned anything during the COVID-19 lockdown, it was that parking our cars helped clear the air. For the first time in decades, skylines were visible in major cities across the globe. And while we know this was not a sustainable situation, it has brought the world’s attention to air pollution, tailpipe emissions and the need to find a solution to improve air quality.

This is where ethanol can shine. Ethanol is an available solution right now that when added to gasoline, reduces toxic tailpipe emissions and clears the air.  

The reason ethanol is so beneficial in gasoline is because it reduces the need for the most toxic fuel additives called aromatics. Aromatics are hydrocarbons that include benzene, toluene and xylene, which are often referred to as the BTX group. Aromatics are the most energy-inefficient, carbon-intensive, and expensive components of gasoline. They often don’t fully combust in the engine, which is why aromatics are the primary source for creating ultra-fine particulates. According to a study by Carnegie Mellon, 40% of ultra-fine particulates in urban areas come from gasoline vehicles.

 No wonder the skies were clearer when we were no longer commuting. Staying home meant we were less exposed to the dangers of aromatics and ultra-fine particulates. But we don’t need to take this extreme these extremes to improve the air we breathe.

Aromatics are added to fuel to boost octane. Ethanol is the only other commercially viable octane source, plus it has the highest octane rating and is a homegrown fuel. Right now, aromatics make up an average of 25% of a gallon of gasoline. That number was closer to 35% before E10 became the standard choice for consumers. With the expansion of E15 and higher blends, the additional ethanol continues to dilute the amount of aromatics added at the refinery. The bottom line: the higher the ethanol blend, the fewer the aromatics and the cleaner the fuel.

This is a story we’ve been telling since 2012. Right before COVID-19, we shifted our focus to not only educate the industry, but also share this story with the general public. The Urban Air Initiative launched an educational campaign dedicated to the aromatic and emission reductions of ethanol, along with its many other benefits. It’s called Let’s Clear the Air and it was designed for each one of you to take the information and share ethanol’s story with your friends and family.

Now more than ever, people are paying attention. We all saw the pictures of blue skies in Los Angeles and the headlines acknowledging that improved air quality was one of the few benefits of the COVID-19 lockdowns. Let’s take this moment and promote the importance of ethanol. It’s important that when given the choice, consumers choose higher blends. And it’s equally important that we continue to push for more access to blender pumps across the U.S., especially in urban areas that can truly benefit from a reduction in aromatics and an increase in homegrown ethanol. It’s time to Clear the Air with ethanol.

Author: Dave VanderGriend
President, Urban Air Initiative
CEO, ICM Inc.
316.796.0900
davev@icminc.com