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Study: Nationwide E85 Use Could Worsen Public Health

Fleet-wide use of E85 in the United States could increase the number of respiratory-related deaths and hospitalizations, according to a new study by Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson. His findings are published online in the journal Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T).

Jacobson combined an air pollution/weather forecast model with future emission inventories, population data, and health effects data to examine the effect of converting from gasoline to E85 on cancer, mortality, and hospitalization in the US as a whole and Los Angeles in particular.

After accounting for projected improvements in gasoline and E85 vehicle emission controls, the study found that E85 may increase ozone-related mortality, hospitalization, and asthma by about 9% in Los Angeles (120 deaths/year with a range of 47-140/yr) and 4% in the US as a whole (185 deaths/yr with a range of 72-216/yr) relative to 100% gasoline.

E85 also increased hospitalization by about 650 and 990 in Los Angeles and the US, respectively, and asthma-related emergency-room visits by about 770 and 1,200 in Los Angeles and the US, respectively.

While the simulations found that E85 vehicles reduced atmospheric levels of benzene and butadiene—two carcinogens—compared to gasoline vehicles, the E85 vehicles increased levels of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde—two other carcinogens. As a result, cancer rates for E85 are likely to be similar to those for gasoline.

Due to its ozone effects, future E85 may be a greater overall public health risk than gasoline. However, because of the uncertainty in future emission regulations, it can be concluded with confidence only that E85 is unlikely to improve air quality over future gasoline vehicles. Unburned ethanol emissions from E85 may result in a global-scale source of acetaldehyde larger than that of direct emissions.

The projected health effects of E85 would be the same regardless of feedstock or process.

Resources:

Comments

john mike

ethanol is garbage (poor gas milage, etc)... it about time to switch the focus to biobutanol, the somewhat more superior choice between the two.

Mike in TX

CNG is the cleanest burning fuel. USA is the middle east of Natural Gas. We should all start buying Honda's CNG civic's. (see video on google *great global warming swindle*.)

Neil

Mike: The USA is actually due for shortages of natural gas. The only thing that has kept us from noticing has been warm winters. There is a rush on to build LNG terminals and pipelines from the arctic. If you switch our cars over to NG you're just going to exacerbate the situation. Russia and the Middle east (Qatar) are the ones with the big NG reserves.

SJC

The U.S. actually peaked on NG production in the early 70s. Which means we never produced as much since. Lately we have been drilling wells in Oklahoma, Wyoming, Montana and elsewhere, that were not profitable before the rise in NG prices.

Many countries have abundant reserves of NG, but it is getting it to where it is used that is the problem. LNG tankers can explode and pipelines are expensive. You could turn it into methanol or other liquid fuels and ship it, but the investments in plant and equipment can be huge. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq all have large NG reserves. It is the economics of creating these pipelines and facilities that holds things up. Running their own countries on NG works for now.

william millard

Methane is abundant on the ocean floor. http://marine.usgs.gov/fact-sheets/gas-hydrates/title.html

tmo8844

Natural gas supplies are linked to oil drilling. Since the hypocrite Democrats prevent all drilling the finding of NG has also fallen.

Also note Iran burns off its NG while wasting its money to build Nuke plants (weapons) that the US will eventually destroy.

SJC

VERY expensive to get it from the ocean floor, even if you could without a major eruption that would make the GHG problem we have now look like a picnic.

SJC

Not all NG is associated with oil drilling. Many wells are pure NG from deep in the earth. One of the problems is knowing just how much is down there and how long it will last.

NBK-Boston

The most common numbers peg the U.S. as having about 3% of the conventional global reserves of NG. We may be the Saudi Arabia of coal, but certainly not of NG.

The actual risks associated with LNG tankers are far more modest than a movie like "Syriana" would have you believe. They tend not to "explode." New offloading terminals are being sited offshore, further reducing the risks LNG operations pose to local populations. At the same time, LNG operations are still somewhat expensive in terms of time, money and energy, so we have to consider that impact, as well as the traditional problem of being dependent on imported energy.

Regarding E85, this paper does not seem to address the most obvious solution, which is selective deployment.

This paper already shows that E85 is more dangerous in some places than others -- 9% worse outcomes in LA, versus 4% worse outcomes if used across the whole country. This implies that there are areas where the negative impacts are less than 4% -- some place has to be lower than the average to offset the places, like LA, that are higher than the average.

This article makes no mention of where those places are, or how much less bad the use of E85 might be there. Perhaps there are areas in which E85 creates zero difference, or even leads to improved public health outcomes?

At present, we have boutique fuels and varying blends across summer and winter. A similar approach could be taken to the deployment of E85 -- encourage its retailing only in areas where its widespread use does not create new problems.

NBK-Boston

Having looked through the text of the paper itself, it would seem to suggest that the widespread use of ethanol in the southeastern U.S. would be neutral to positive in most respects. This conclusion is based on their coarse-grained whole-U.S. analysis.

Why they did not run a fine-grained southeast-only analysis like they did for L.A., to see what the health effects of E85 would be if deployed only in that area, is beyond me. Maybe they did not want ethanol to look good.

andrichrose

you have got a great big boil right in the middle of the United States,
I am thinking of the super volcano at yellowstone in wyoming, surely
if it was lanced correctly the energy derived could supply the states
with all its needs , if you don´t then maybe its going to pop , and then
I am afraid the question of gas verses ethanol will become irrelevant!

SJC

You may have LNG tanker offshore facilities, but I doubt that a terrorist would play be the rules and stop at an offshore facility. At a 20 knot speed, they could make it quite a ways in before anything could be done.

DS

I'm not a big fan of E85, but this "Study" is BS. There's not enough ethanol to run all the cars in the US at E10 let alone E85. Secondly, the robustness of it's conclusion is questionable. When you internally combust anything there's going to be unwanted products.

SJC

You are correct..we may never get to E85 anyway. That might not be desirable even if there were no health risks. We have to change the way we use fuel, period. I have long thought that the benzene in the environment from fossil fuels has been more harmful than anyone will admit. Conservation means the less we use now, the more we have for later. A pretty simple principle to follow.

gr

If ever the actuals approached this simulation, which is doubtful at a reasonable rate of conversion to BEV/PHEV - then solutions are available in catalytic converters tweaked for acetaldehyde and formaldehyde. What is not discussed is the study also shows an average reduction of 80% compared to gasoline in some 30 different pollutants. Table 1, 2020 baseline.

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