Celebrating the Spirit of St. Patrick's Day by Greening Your Fuel

Soon, just for a day, everything around us will be colored green in celebration of St. Patrick's Day—clothes, rivers, milkshakes, and even beer—but let’s talk about something in Minnesota that's green all year round: our fuel.

You might not realize it, but there are several “green” options available to many Minnesota drivers. If you are one of the hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans who drive a flex fuel vehicle, you can choose a cleaner-burning ethanol blend like E85 or E30. If you don’t drive a flex fuel vehicle, there’s still a green option for you. All 2001 or newer gasoline-powered vehicles can run on E15, also known as 88 octane.

What makes these fuel options green?
• They’re renewable. Ethanol is made from resources such as corn, which is replanted each spring.
• Using ethanol blends reduces lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions, especially when compared to Canadian tar sands crude, the source of a majority of Minnesota’s petroleum. Using ethanol also reduces carbon monox…

Twin Cities Auto Show Showcases Variety of Flex Fuel Vehicles

Like many auto shows, the Twin Cities Auto Show at the Minneapolis Convention Center on March 10-18, 2018, will feature the best vehicles automakers have to offer consumers.  What you may not know is that many of the vehicles on display are flex fuel vehicles, meaning they can run either on regular gasoline or on cleaner-burning ethanol blends. That’s particularly important to potential vehicle buyers in Minnesota, a state that leads the nation in the number of E85 stations, and also has many other stations offering E15, E30, and other ethanol blends.

One example of a flex fuel vehicle is the Ford F-150, the state’s most popular vehicle for a number of years. The Ford F-150 is available as a flex fuel vehicle in at least four different model options. The 2018 Chevrolet Impala is also available as a flex fuel vehicle, as is the sporty Dodge Charger. Prefer a luxury vehicle? Consider the 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLA2050 4matic, one of many high performance vehicles that thrive on higher-ethan…

Their Shops Were All Open

Hundreds of people streamed into the meeting room of the hotel. Dividers slid back, transforming three rooms into one giant space. Rows of chairs, many already staked out by early birds, faced the stage, and I was beginning to regret my decision to come. Public speaking was not my forte and this was the largest group I had ever addressed.

More than 20 years have passed since that morning when I drove three hours west of the Twin Cities through the rolling plains of corn and soybeans comprising Minnesota’s farm belt, but I still remember what I thought when I arrived. I had not been prepared for that room. 

A few weeks prior, a call had come to me from the manager of the town’s ethanol plant. He asked me to address their annual meeting on my employer’s view of renewable motor fuels, like the ethanol produced by his “biorefinery” (his word, not mine). New to the Saint Paul-based environmental-health nonprofit, I had welcomed a chance to tour western Minnesota and speak on this topic.  I…

With More Choices At The Pump, Everyone Is A Winner

Two Winner gas stations and convenience stores in Richfield and in Saint Paul are among the estimated 173 fuel outlets in Minnesota that added 88 octane gasoline to their pumps in 2017.  We spoke with manager Eddie Elias about the fuels his stations now offer.  “It’s helping my business big time,” Elias said. “It’s cheaper and people are excited about that.”

Elias has been managing the Winner Gas station at 2233 Energy Park Drive in St. Paul for a number of years, and this year began managing the Richfield location at 7733 Portland Ave.  He had talked with other station owners about ethanol-blend fuels such as E85, E30 and E15, and he knew they were good sellers. He also became aware of the environmental benefits of using ethanol fuels, so he decided to offer his customers more choices at the pump.

“Our overall gallons sold has gone up, so clearly it’s working,” he said. “A lot of people have switched over from 87 octane, and a few have switched from 91 octane to the great 88.”  While…

88 Octane Gasoline Now A Favorite Choice Of Many In Minnesota

In four years, the number of Minnesota stations selling 88 octane gasoline has gone from zero to more than 200. Many Minnesotans have become fans of a fuel that provides more octane but is usually priced lower than regular unleaded.
In the fall of 2013, only one station in Minnesota offered the 88 octane gasoline choice, Penn Minnoco in south Minneapolis. 88 octane gasoline is sometimes referred to as E15, because it takes advantage of a little more ethanol than our 10% regular gasoline to boost octane and lower the price. When it was first rolled out to the public, it generated a lot of interest, both in the news media and among drivers eager try the new gasoline-ethanol blend.

Soon stations across the state were adding new dispensers and offering both E85, for flex fuel vehicle drivers, and the new 88 octane gasoline blend for drivers of vehicles 2001 and newer.  Five stations were selling it after one year. Thirty more added it the next year and the total almost doubled the next ye…

How Minnesota Led the Way

Twenty years ago, Minnesota became the first state in the nation to require a 10 percent blend of ethanol be added to almost all grades of gasoline.  Sometimes referred to as E10, this gasoline-ethanol mix helps to make the fuel burn cleaner and reduces the state’s need for imported petroleum. It also eliminated an air quality problem in the Twin Cities few people were aware of – carbon monoxide levels were exceeding federal health guidelines. After E10 was established statewide, carbon monoxide levels lowered to below health standards, even though there are significantly more people and more vehicles in the metro area than there were in 1997.

Just as most people were unaware that carbon monoxide levels had risen, they noticed no difference in the new blend of gasoline. E10 had already been rolled out in the metro area, and when the change went statewide, Minnesotans saw little if any change in price, availability or performance.

Today, a 15 percent gasoline-ethanol blend (E15) is rap…

Where Does Minnesota’s Gasoline Come From?

Photo of a Tar Sands facility in Alberta, Canada by sbamueller, licensed under CC BY 2.0
Most of the gasoline sold in Minnesota starts as petroleum from the Tar Sands region of Alberta, Canada.  Removing Tar Sands from the ground often involves strip mining, extensive use of natural gas and water resources, and destruction of forests and wildlife habitat.

These issues continue to be a concern, but one solution can be found in the fields not far from our homes.  Biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel can be extracted from crops we can replant each year, helping to capture carbon and energy each crop cycle; processing the plants for food, fiber, and transportation fuels; and then begin the cycle over again each Spring.

Minnesota is a state with no crude oil, yet it has become a major provider of biofuels in just a few decades, producing more than a billion gallons of fuel each year.  Better yet, these biofuels produce fewer emissions than traditional petroleum fuels and are renewable.