As ethanol is a fuel additive it is typically mixed with conventional gasoline at various percentages, otherwise known as blends. Since the EU adopted its first biofuels policy in 2003 there has been a steady increase in ethanol blends and range of ethanol-compatible vehicles available on the European market.
All petrol sold in the EU typically contains up to 5% ethanol (E5 – the “E” stands for ethanol and the “5” stands for the maximum percentage of ethanol content) and this already for a number of years. It is widely available as the default petrol choice. However, the vast majority of commercially available petrol vehicles built since 2000 can run on a mixture of gasoline and up to 10% ethanol, also known as E10.
E10 can be used in about 90% of all petrol-driven cars used in Europe and in 99.7% of the petrol vehicles produced since 2010. E10 is currently available in Belgium, Finland, France and Germany. E10 is now 32% of petrol sales in France and 63% in Finland. Its share of the petrol market in Germany was 12.6% in 2016. In the countries where E10 is available, it is a few cents cheaper than E5 and there is no difference in fuel consumption between E10 and E5 petrol grades.
E10 is also being used in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. In Brazil the percentage of ethanol used in petrol can be even as high as 25%. The U.S. is also moving towards introducing E15.
The relatively slow uptake of E10 by other EU Member States can be overtaken if EU policy uncertainties cease, Member States implement their renewable energy obligations, and proper communication along the supply chain down to the consumers is established.
To ensure that Europe does not fall behind the pack, E10 should be widely deployed across all Member States. This will help to complete the internal market for motor fuels and allow European motorists to reap the benefits of increased renewable ethanol in petrol.
If you would like to find out more about E10 fuel blend, please click here.
Europe must also be ambitious. The current blending limit of 10% in regular petrol prevents the RED and FQD targets to be achieved (JEC Biofuels Programme, European Commission). E20 would provide opportunities for vehicle manufacturers to optimise the combustion process in the engine, allowing lower fuel consumption, reduction of CO2 emissions and other pollutants even further. Specifically, a meta-analysis completed by the Vienna University of Technology found that the emissions of E20/25 blends compared to pure petrol (E0) with non-optimised engines: lead to higher engine efficiency and a decrease in end of pipe emissions.
To move towards E20 there should be:
Ethanol can also be used in higher concentrations. A mixture of between 65% and 85% ethanol and the rest petrol, called E85, is widely available in Sweden, France, Germany, and more sporadically in Hungary, Austria, the Netherlands and Spain. E85 reduces tailpipe emissions, has a higher octane rating which improves engine performance, and reduces engine heat and wear. As E85 is predominantly ethanol it has a better impact on air quality since alcohol burns with considerably fewer byproducts than gasoline. It reduces carbon-monoxide emissions and provides significant reductions in emissions of many harmful toxics, including benzene, a known human carcinogen.
E85 requires dedicated ‘flex fuel vehicles’ (FFVs), which are able to run on E85, petrol, or any mixture of the two, without the need for separate fuel tanks. In 2003, Brazil was the first to introduce FFVs, and today they account for more than 90% of new car sales in that country. Unfortunately, Europe is lagging behind and must significantly improve its infrastructure to enable the increased uptake of E85.
Number of E85 filling stations per country in 2015
If you would like to find out more about E85 fuel blend, please click here (site available only in French).