Facts about ethanol fuels in North Carolina
Editor’s note: The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services routinely gets questions about ethanol. We asked Stephen Benjamin, director of the department’s Standards Division, to provide a few facts about this alternative fuel and rules pertaining to its use in North Carolina.
The federal government mandated the use of ethanol in the 2005 Energy Policy Act. The volume of ethanol to be used nationwide was increased in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. This has forced oil companies to look for new markets, such as North Carolina, for ethanol-blended gasolines because their traditional markets are already saturated.
Currently, there is no state law mandating the use of ethanol in gasoline. However, over the past several months we have seen that 30 percent of gas stations are selling blends of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline. We expect this trend to continue as the availability of ethanol increases and the cost remains competitive with gasoline. In addition, the volume of ethanol that must be blended nationwide continues to grow each year, with 11.1 million gallons scheduled for 2009.
Here are a few important facts about ethanol:
- Gasoline with up to 10 percent ethanol is safe to use in most vehicles and small engines. Check the owner’s manual to be sure.
- Storage tanks must be kept free of water and should be monitored on a regular basis.
- Ethanol is blended with gasoline at the terminals, not the gas station, so it is unlikely there will be a fuel sold with greater than 10 percent ethanol in it.
- Locations selling gasoline containing up to 10 percent ethanol are not required to label the pumps as “contains ethanol,” but many have done so voluntarily.
- E85 (a mixture of 85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline) is a separate product for use only in Flex Fuel Vehicles. It must be labeled as “E85” and is available at only about a dozen retail locations in North Carolina.
- The N.C. Motor Fuels Laboratory and its field staff routinely test for the percentage of ethanol, among other things, in gasoline samples purchased across the state. When the lab identifies a problem, the station must stop selling the fuel until the problem is corrected.