High-Octane Low-Carbon Fuels: The Importance to Corn Farmers and Consumers

October 5, 2020

High-Octane Low-Carbon Fuels: The Importance to Corn Farmers and Consumers

Oct 5, 2020

Key Issues:EthanolHigh-Octane Low-Carbon

Author: Julie Busse

A high-octane low-carbon (HOLC) fuel in the marketplace, once fully implemented, has the potential to increase ethanol consumption by more than 5 billion gallons. That’s equal to over 1.8 billion bushels of new annual corn demand. Not only is a HOLC fuel good for corn farmers, but it also benefits consumers and the environment.


Brian West, former Group Leader for the Fuels and Engines Research Group at the National Transportation Research Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), says based on the engine testing work he’s done, the move to a HOLC fuel just makes sense.


“Ethanol has a high Research Octane Number (RON), which is why it is attractive as a spark-ignition engine fuel,” says West. “At ORNL, we tested an unmodified Ford F-150 with conventional E10 gasoline and splash blended that with more ethanol, to make a 98 RON E25 and found modest improvements in efficiency and the truck was four-tenths of a second faster in an acceleration test. Then, in a series of additional tests, the engine compression ratio was increased by a simple piston change, allowing the HOLC E25 to improve efficiency and power even more, with efficiency gains of 5-6 percent and improving acceleration by another 0.3 seconds.”


“Octane is one of the most important properties for spark-ignition engine fuel,” West added. “If the octane number isn’t high enough, the engine control will adjust the spark timing to eliminate knock, and that comes at the cost of power and efficiency. Raising the octane number is one of the most efficient ways to permit the engine to use the optimum spark timing.”


Automakers are asking for a higher-octane fuel standard allowing new technology capable of delivering substantial gains in engine efficiency and performance. But higher-octane fuel does more than just help engine performance and corn demand.


“Having high-octane low-carbon fuel available at the pump benefits the environment and consumers,” said Iowa corn farmer and Ethanol Action Team Chair Mark Recker. “In 2018, the use of ethanol in gasoline reduced CO2-equivalent Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) from vehicles in the U.S. by 55.1 million metric tons. With higher ethanol blends at the pump, that number will increase even more. Additionally, higher blends of ethanol in a future high-octane fuel would allow consumers access to a better performing fuel without the high-octane price premium we see today.”


NCGA recently welcomed the introduction of H.R. 8371, The Next Generation Fuels Act legislation, to transition to a higher-octane fuel that reduces greenhouse gas emissions by meeting more advanced vehicles’ needs. You can learn about this legislation and the move to mid-level ethanol blends at www.ncga.com/octane.