The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that in 2020, the 123.49 billion gallons of finished motor gasoline consumed in the United States contained about 12.63 billion gallons of fuel ethanol, equal to about 10% of the total volume of finished motor gasoline consumption. Fuel ethanol contains a denaturant that is added to ethanol to make fuel ethanol unfit for human consumption. Federal law requires that fuel ethanol contain at least 2% denaturant by volume, but the actual amount in fuel ethanol may be higher.
Most of the gasoline now sold in the United States contains some ethanol. Most of ethanol blending into U.S. motor gasoline occurs to meet the requirements of the 1990 Clean Air Act (RFG Fuel) and the Renewable Fuel Standard set forth in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administers the requirements with the Renewable Fuel Standard Program.
There are three general categories of ethanol-gasoline blends: E10, E15, and E85. E10 is gasoline with 10% ethanol content. E15 is gasoline with 15% ethanol content, and E85 is a fuel that may contain up to 85% fuel ethanol. The ethanol content of most of the motor gasoline sold in the United States does not exceed 10% by volume. Most motor gasoline with more than 10% fuel ethanol content is sold in the Midwest where most ethanol production capacity is located. Gasoline dispensing pumps generally indicate the fuel ethanol content of the gasoline.
All gasoline engine vehicles can use E10. Currently, only flex-fuel and light-duty vehicles with a model year of 2001 or newer are approved by the EPA to use E15. Flex-fuel vehicles can use any ethanol-gasoline blends up to E85.
The energy content of ethanol is about 33% less than pure gasoline. The impact of fuel ethanol on vehicle fuel economy varies depending on the amount of denaturant that is added to the ethanol. The energy content of denaturant is about equal to the energy content of pure gasoline. In general, vehicle fuel economy may decrease by about 3% when using E10 relative to gasoline that does not contain fuel ethanol.
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Last updated: May 4, 2021