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What drivers need to know

What drivers need to know

No gas stations near Columbus in March 2021 offered lead free 88a higher ethanol and often cheaper alternative to regular gasoline.

Today, 20 stations in the area provide the fuel and there are more in the making.

The increase is almost entirely due to the arrival of Sheetz, who opened its first central Ohio Delaware gas station in April 2021. The chain, which declined to comment for this article, represents 19 of at least 20 stations in the Columbus area that offer 88 unleaded, also known as E15.

According to experts, unleaded 88 extracts slightly less petrol than normal unleaded and emits less carbon, but the differences are small. Experts say it’s worth using if the price is low enough.

The fuel contains up to 15% ethanol and gas stations are promoting it as an affordable option at a time of rising gas prices.

The number of filling stations that offer the fuel remains low, but has risen sharply in recent years.

Ohio has at least 88 gas stations that sell 88 unleaded, up from 10 or 15 in 2016, according to the Renewable Fuels Association. (A spokesperson warned that the association’s list is not exhaustive.) Nationwide, about 2,400 stations sell E15, about 1.5% of the total. The fuel is on average 10% cheaper than regular unleaded.

Why lead-free 88?

Virtually all unleaded gasoline sold in the United States contains at least 10% ethanol, thanks to renewable fuel standards approved in 2005.

Agriculture officials say a switch to unleaded 88 will benefit consumers, lower prices at the pump and reduce pollution.

“It has lower greenhouse gas emissions than regular gas, it contributes to the rural economy, and it costs consumers less in the gas tank,” said Kelly Harsh, a Delaware County farmer and board member of the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association.

However, experts say the agricultural industry has a self-interest in promoting E15: Farmers struggling with thin profit margins want to sell more corn.

“It keeps the industry going,” said Glenn Lipscomb, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Toledo who has studied ethanol blends.

Unleaded 88: What’s the difference with regular gasoline?

Misinformation and the ethanol hype abound on the internet, making a sober assessment of unleaded 88 a challenge.

“People will make a lot of claims that they can’t support,” he said Ahmet Selameta senior fellow at Ohio State University Center for Automotive Research.

Still, the drawbacks are minor, he said.

The gas mileage of unleaded 88 depends on the vehicle, but in general, “ethanol has a lower energy content than gas,” said Denton Cinquegrana, chief oil analyst for the United States. Oil price information service.

Gasoline produces about 43 megajoules of electricity per kilogram, while ethanol produces only 30, meaning pure ethanol achieves lower gas mileage than pure gasoline. With only 5% difference in ethanol content, the difference between unleaded 88 and regular unleaded is negligible.

“I suspect most people will have a hard time seeing the actual reduction,” Lipscomb said. “It may be masked by other factors like the weather, how you drive, tire pressure, but it will be very, very close in terms of fuel economy.”

In some cases, the price difference — which depends on the gas station — makes unleaded 88 worth it, experts say.

Daniel Ciolkoszo, an associate professor of agricultural and biological technology at Penn State University, says drivers should try it for themselves. “Run a tank under normal conditions with regular unleaded and a tank with unleaded 88 and see what the difference is,” he said.

Ciolkosz believes that unleaded 88 is worth buying if it is at least 5% cheaper than regular unleaded.

E15 fuel emits less carbon emissions than regular unleaded fuel, but again, the difference is small.

Georgios Karavalakiswho leads an experimental combustion engine research program at the University of California Riverside, studied E15 at the request of the state of California, which approved the blend over the summer.

“It’s a useful fuel and our study showed that,” he said. “Most of the exhaust emissions from a fleet of 20 vehicles (that we tested) have decreased.”

A definitive statement on the environmental benefits of E15 will require a “life cycle assessment” that measures carbon emissions at each stage of the manufacturing process, Karavalakis said. But experts generally agree that ethanol production releases less carbon dioxide than gasoline production because it is plant-based.

E15 has another, more subtle benefit, Selamet noted. It comes from corn grown in the United States, meaning the price at the pump is less sensitive to the whims of foreign leaders.

Most of the corn grown in Ohio for ethanol is processed here, Harsh said.

“An important market for corn farmers is the seven plants in Ohio,” Harsh said.

Unleaded 88: Is it safe to use in your vehicle?

Contrary to some social media posts, unleaded 88 will not destroy your car.

“It’s a tried and tested fuel,” said Robert White, vice president of industry relations for the Renewable Fuels Association.

The EPA has approved E15 for use in passenger cars built after 2001, although some high-performance vehicles recommend using only medium and premium gasoline.

The fuel can damage an engine if left in the tank for too long, which is why the government agency does not recommend it for vehicles that are used seasonally, such as boats and lawn mowers.

If you drive regularly, your car should be fine, experts say.

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@PatrickACooley