MN Fuels Blog

Life Cycle Assessments and E85 Part II
May 18, 2018
Note: This is the second of a two-part series. Read Part I for an introduction to using life cycle analyses.

Part II: Ethanol's Greenhouse Gas Benefits
The GREET model, or Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Transportation model, was developed and originally released in 1996 by the Argonne National Laboratory. The GREET model is annually updated and refined to account for the latest technologies in transportation and fuel options. GREET is a type of life cycle assessment developed specifically for evaluating fuel and transportation impacts on the environment. According to GREET's authors at Argonne, this analytical tool can account for more than 85 different vehicle and fuel combinations, and can be used by fleet managers and researchers, as well as by auto and energy industries. It allows users to compare traditional forms of transportation and fuel to renewable forms and make the best decision based on calculated energy costs, emissions, and overall impact.

GREET includes 1,000 predefined pathways or "processes that represent the various stages in the production of the product. A process converts inputs into outputs, and emissions are generated by technologies used or by losses that occur within the process.” Needless to say, the number of vehicle-fuel combinations plus all the possible pathways results in very complex yet detailed assessments of energy use and emissions.

When you look at the nationwide averages in the model, we see that a regular E10 gasoline (i.e. regular 87 octane unleaded gasoline in all of Minnesota) produces 421 grams of greenhouse gases (GHG) for every mile traveled (grams per mi). Conversely, E85 produces 299 grams per mi of GHG. That’s nearly a 30% reduction when you choose to use E85. Remember, this already takes into account the change in fuel use rates between the fuels, land uses for crops, and likely any other factor you would want to consider—the entire life cycle. Bottom line: If you drive a flex fuel vehicle, and aren’t using E85 already, you can reduce your emissions starting with your very next fill-up!

Beyond this calculation from GREET, two additional items must be considered when comparing E85 GHG emissions to petroleum-based gasoline GHG emissions. First, the crops that are planted each year to produce E85 also help absorb carbon dioxide, a primary GHG, from the atmosphere. Petroleum gasoline, on the other hand, is only adding it to the atmosphere. Most of the carbon in E85 came out of the atmosphere to begin with, not from being locked away deep underground.

Secondly, Minnesota gets most of its petroleum by importing it from the Canadian Tar Sands, which means our gasoline is much more carbon intensive than the national average used in the calculation from GREET.

While today's focus was primarily on GHG emission reductions, there are far more pollutants coming from our tailpipes that we should consider when evaluating air quality. Visit the Air Quality section of to learn more, and continue to check this blog for additional evidence on the clean air benefits of ethanol.

Life Cycle Assessments and E85
May 16, 2018
Past posts on this blog have often praised the clean air benefits of choosing to use E85 in your flex fuel vehicle or even opting for 88 octane (E15) instead of 87 octane in a 2001 or newer gasoline vehicle. In a two-part series this week, we’ll begin to share scientific evidence behind these clean air claims. Today, in Part I, we will introduce a method used to weigh costs and benefits, a process known as a life cycle assessment (LCA). In Part II later this week, we’ll discuss a specific type of LCA called the GREET model, which was developed by the U.S. Department of Energy to assess and compare petroleum use and alternative fuels. We’ll also discuss results of E85 used in this GREET tool and address other considerations when looking at the air quality impact of using E85.

Part I: What is a Life Cycle Assessment and Why Does it Matter for E85? 
 According to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), “A life cycle assessment is the assessment of the environmental impact of a given product throughout its lifespan.” Sometimes called cradle-to-grave assessment, ISO further defines LCA as “a compilation and evaluation of the inputs, outputs, and potential environmental impacts of a product system throughout its life cycle. LCAs address the environmental aspects and potential environmental impacts throughout a product’s life cycle, from raw material acquisition, through production, use, end of life treatment, recycling, and final disposal.” In other words, LCAs allow us to see a picture in its entirety—not just partial segments. For instance, when considering the full life cycle of E85, we would take into account the energy use and emissions created during the planting and harvesting (agricultural processes), the production of ethanol in a refining facility, all the way to the delivery of the product to the station/pump, emissions created by its use in vehicles, and more. The results can then be compared to petroleum’s life cycle starting at the drilling site through to refining, distribution, and use in a vehicle. This is also sometimes referred to as a “Well to Wheels” analysis.

So why does an LCA matter for E85? Well, there’s pretty solid research depicting fewer tailpipe emissions with burning E85 than burning petroleum-based fuel (we’ll detail more of this research in future posts!). However, what comes out of the tailpipe is only one segment of the product's life cycle. So you may want to know, “Is E85 still better for our air even when accounting for energy and emissions from ethanol's agricultural and refining processes?” The answer is yes. Evidence to support this can be captured through use of the GREET model. This comprehensive LCA model allows us to examine every stage in the process and get a full picture of E85’s “life” and not just the tailpipe emissions. We can use this same tool to evaluate petroleum based fuel lifespan—from wells to wheels—and can then compare the results to see which produces fewer life cycle greenhouse gases. Check back on Friday for Part II of this series, and a more detailed look at GREET.

All HEVs Are Not Created Equal
May 11, 2018
Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) are relatively common today. In the United States, the Honda Insight kicked off the modern HEV era when it beat the Toyota Prius to market in 1999. The popular Prius HEV followed closely the next year. Typically, HEVs have a conventional internal combustion engine, fueled with gasoline or diesel fuel, and combined with an electric drivetrain. All HEVs are not created equal, though.

From 2005 to 2014, a limited number of Chevrolet Silverado pickups were built with a “mild” hybrid system. When these came to a stop, the engine shut off. The hybrid system restarted the gasoline engine when the driver pushed the accelerator. Bed-mounted outlets provided power to anyone with equipment needing electricity. Contractors working out of their (too-often idling) ‘mobile offices’ might have saved a little fuel and emissions with the Silverado.

Better fuel economy and‒in turn, saving on operating costs and emissions‒are key HEV benefits. However, the higher initial cost HEVs and questions about their battery life caused many consumers to hesitate. An example is the original Honda Insight battery pack that came with an eight-year or 80,000-mile warranty and replacement cost estimated at between $1000 and $3000.  Much of those consumer concerns have dissipated over the last 20 years as battery technologies have improved.

Surprisingly, neither Honda nor Toyota were first with HEVs‒not by 100 years. In fact, Ferdinand Porsche built a gasoline-electric hybrid back in 1900. In the decades since, many hybrid and “advanced propulsion” technologies have been tried. Attempts have been made to use Stirling engines, jet engines – and (yikes!) even nuclear reactors!

Minnesota State University-Mankato may have been first in converting an early Prius HEV to run on E85. Its owner, Roger Aiken, is a clean energy advocate, who drove the E85 HEV throughout the state. Amazingly, Roger’s Prius is still on the road. It was spotted recently‒recognizable by its colorful ‘Clean Air Choice’ wrap (pictured left).

In 2007-2008, Ford Motor Company delivered 20 flex-fuel HEV Escapes to Midwestern fleets near E85 fueling stations. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture drove one for a year. By all accounts, the E85 HEV Escape performed perfectly and was a favorite with department staff. Sadly, at the end of the test, the Escapes were rounded up and not heard of again. Rumors suggest they were hauled to Dearborn, evaluated, and destroyed. Unfortunately, Ford Escape flex-fuel HEVs were never mass produced.

The first mass produced, commercially available “plug-in” HEV, the Chevrolet Volt, has been in production for several years. When announced in 2007, General Motors stated the Volt would also be flex-fuel. Imagine that! In one car, you’d have an all-electric vehicle that could be charged at home (or work) as well as a flex-fuel internal combustion engine, allowing you to travel beyond any battery range worries. An electric vehicle also giving you the choice to fuel with the cleaner, renewable-based E85. Seems perfect, right?

Well, fans were again disappointed by an automaker’s executive decision. When the Volt PHEV finally went to production in late 2010 (after GM’s high-profile 2009 bankruptcy), the flex-fuel system had been dropped. GM gave various reasons including lack of government backing, complicated emissions certifications, limits of the Volt’s on-board computing, and the need for more E85 fueling stations. Perhaps now is a time to consider this technology again, with E85 fueling infrastructure having grown to over 3,500 locations across the nation (370+ of those in Minnesota ‒ more than any other state).

Will flex-fuel HEV and PHEV technologies go the way of Chrysler’s jet-powered prototype?  According to this Road & Track article, maybe not just yet.  However, for now, we will need to go to Brazil to drive one.

Waterville's Phil Mart Offers Big Time Savings, Small Town Service
May 4, 2018
Last week we posted a brief update on all the newest stations in Minnesota offering E85 or E15. Today, we’re digging a little deeper with one of them and sharing the story of PhilMart in Waterville. We spoke with one of the owners, Jeff LaFrance about his station. Jeff and his wife Lorie own the station along with Lorie’s mother, Fern Renken, who's managed the station since 1983. Last year, the three station owners made a big decision to add new fuels. We asked Jeff to tell us a little about why they made this decision.

Jeff explained the biggest reason was they simply had to update their old pumps. As they began researching options and learned about ethanol blends, the new fuel choices became more appealing. “Not only was some grant money available to add ethanol blender pumps, but these new fuels also benefit Minnesota’s local economy and helps protect our air quality in the Midwest. Most importantly to us as station owners, it differentiates us from our competitors in the area. I think it’s a win-win for Minnesota, the Midwest, and for us.”

The best part about updating their old pumps is consumers quickly noticed the changes and the new choices. According to Jeff, initial reactions from his customers have been very positive. He said, “As a small business, of course one of our goals is to earn money, but a big part of why we are successful is because we care about giving our customers good options, good value, and good deals.” At Phil-Mart, 88 octane is priced a nickel less than regular unleaded gasoline and the E85 price was about 65 cents less than regular unleaded at the time of this writing.

He also stated their desire as a small business to be involved in the local community and as part of that community, they want to help make it a better place to live. From a bigger picture, deciding to offer ethanol blends at their store means more customers have the option to choose cleaner-burning, less-polluting products in their vehicles.

“Ethanol fuels are a good value product, better for the air, and you know you’re helping the local agriculture and economy in Waterville,” he concluded. “In a small town like ours, when there’s an opportunity to help each other, you take it.”

Phil-Mart is located at 437 E. Main Street in Waterville, just east of State Highway 13.

Use the search function on to find other E85, flex fuel, or 88 octane stations near you.

Coming Clean on World Asthma Day
May 1, 2018
The first Tuesday in May is World Asthma Day. More than 400,000 Minnesotans live with the chronic lung condition, and most are at higher risk when outdoor pollution levels are high.  Fortunately, Minnesota has many flex fuel vehicles and more E85 stations than any other state. Using E85 in a flex fuel vehicle can significantly reduce tailpipe emissions, which is one of the major sources of air pollution here. When you fill you tank with cleaner-burning E85, you’re not just saving money, you are helping those with asthma and other lung diseases breathe a little easier.

Thanks for using ethanol blends!

New Station Openings
April 27, 2018
Despite the cold and snow that persisted in Minnesota through mid-April, making construction projects a little slower, there were a number of stations that have added new dispensers offering E85, E15 (also known as 88 Octane), or other ethanol blends. So far in 2018, twelve new stations, listed below, are now selling flex fuel options and have been added to the station directory.

For a full list of locations in Minnesota offering E85 and other flex fuels, visit or use the search function on to find your nearest 88 Octane or nearest E85 station.

Check back frequently this spring and summer to learn of the newest station openings!

Kwik Trip #104
8191 179th St NW

Grand Rapids

Casey’s General Store #3613
302 SE 7th Ave

Maple Grove

Bobby & Steve’s
9805 Maple Grove Pkwy N


Casey’s General Store #3591
313 Shimmcor St


Casey’s General Store #3601
175 Nelson Blvd


Casey’s General Store #3675
1080 US Highway 12


Kwik Trip #598
645 Opportunity Park Dr

Saint Joseph

Kwik Trip #575
15 20th Ave SE


Kwik Trip #153
105 2nd St S

Sauk Rapids

Casey’s General Store #3643
1802 8th Ave NW


Kum & Go
600 State Highway 4


Phil Mart
437 E Main St

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