Ethanol is a renewable fuel made from corn, sugar, grain or straw that can be blended with gasoline and used in virtually any gasoline-powered vehicle manufactured after 1980. Most gasoline-powered engines can run on a gasoline blend containing up to 10% ethanol. This is known as "E-10." In Canada, ethanol is usually made from corn (Ontario) or wheat (prairies).
There is now focus on reducing the costs of ethanol production and using non-food feedstock materials such as straw, wood and switch grass, known as cellulosic ethanol.
Ethanol reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions because the grain or other biomass used to make the ethanol absorbs carbon dioxide as it grows. The CANMET Energy Technology Centre estimates that a litre of biomass ethanol used to replace a litre of gasoline reduces the accumulation of carbon dioxide by about half. (Source: NRCan/GHGenius)
Ethanol in Fleet Operations
Since December 2010 federal regulations have required that gasoline in Canada contain 5% renewable fuel content overall. Provinces may have their own regulations. In BC the minimum renewable fuel content in gasoline is also 5%.
An E-10 blend can be used in any vehicle manufactured in 1980 or later, and requires no modifications to the vehicle's engine or fuel system. E-10 has a minimal impact on a vehicle's fuel economy or horsepower. Overall, the use of E-10 increases fuel consumption by an average of 2% when compared with pure gasoline.
Automakers have a variety of flexible-fuel vehicles that can run on blends of up to 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. E-85 vehicles use an on-board sensor to detect and automatically adjust for the fuel mixture being used at any given time. FlexFuel vehicles are distinguished by a yellow gas cap and branding on each vehicle. The E-85 blend is not yet commercially available in British Columbia.