RIT study shows E20 reduces emissions

By Luke Geiver | May 21, 2010
A comprehensive guide to address the impact of the federal fleet on the environment has been released by the U.S. DOE. The "Federal Fleet Management Guidance" offers petroleum and GHG reduction strategies. Along with cutting back on vehicle miles traveled, support of bicycle and electric car use, the plan outlines the need for an increase in lower GHG-emitting and alternative fuels. Issued as part of Executive Order 13514 by President Barack Obama, "Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance," the guidance plan proclaims a single vision: "Federal fleets will lead by example to help create a clean energy economy that will increase our Nation's prosperity, promote energy security, protect the interests of taxpayers, and safeguard the health of our environment."
Each government agency will now be accountable for meeting that vision, and a recent study from the Rochester Institute of Technology, may prove that the goal of the guidance plan is actually attainable. Put together by the Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies at RIT, the study indicates that E20 use reduces tailpipe emissions of hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. Also important to the study, the research showed no discernible impact to vehicle drivability or the need for additional maintenance.

Working with the County of Monroe, N.Y., the research team is led in part by Brian Duddy, a senior program manager at the Center of Integrated Manufacturing Studies. The team tested E20 in 10 older gasoline vehicles not specifically intended for ethanol fuel. The vehicles tested included: a 1998 and a 2004 Ford F-150 truck, two 2001 Ford F-250 trucks, a 2002 Ford F-250 truck, a 2000 Chevrolet Impala sedan, a 2001 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 truck and a Suburban, a 2002 Chevrolet G3500 van and a 2002 GMC Sierra 1500 truck. Each vehicle logged more than 100,000 miles on E20 fuel with the starting mileage ranging from 20,000 miles to 120,000. With no measurable stress on the operations or mechanics of the vehicles after 100,000 miles, the fleet averaged an emissions reduction of 23 percent for carbon monoxide and 13 percent for hydrocarbon emissions.

At the request of the U.S. Department of Transportation for a study on older, conventional vehicles that had not been previously run on ethanol, Duddy said, the county initially "splash blended" its own E20 in a dedicated tank that only the vehicles in the test used. Using E97 and eventually E85, they created an E20 blend. The research team then frequently tested the blend to ensure the percentage of ethanol in the fuel. After the decision was made to fuel all 300 vehicles in the Monroe County fleet with E20, its own "Green Fueling Station" was created, where biodiesel, hydrogen, E85 and compressed natural gas are also available, Duddy said.

"Currently, numerous commercially available gasoline brands contain 10 percent ethanol," said Brain Hilton, senior staff engineer at the Center. "There have been concerns raised that any increase in blend would negatively impact internal combustion engines, however our data shows that vehicle performance remained constant, while carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions were decreased even over E10 blends."

Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy cited the RIT report findings as an indicator of what he believes ethanol-blended fuel can do. "This new study confirms what we've been saying all along. Increasing the use of ethanol in our fuel can help clean our environment, strengthen our national security and create jobs, all without any impact on the drivability of our cars," Buis said. He also points to the results as a reaffirmation that blends greater than E20 should be allowed.

The research is not only being used by Growth Energy and Monroe County. The U.S. EPA is also using the results of the test to promote the renewable fuel standard, according to RIT. The E.O. 13514 says that agencies are required to annually report on their progress in meeting the goals of the order, and must make adjustments as necessary. The purchase of any vehicle for a federal fleet must also show that it supports the sustainability targets outlined in the order.

Duddy said the testing on the Monroe County fleet continues and should end in November. "We have also done a second round of back-to-back emissions testing with these vehicles," Duddy said, "and confirmed the earlier findings that there is a decrease in carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions when the vehicles run on E20."