The E100 Evangelist

Straight ethanol isn’t sold at U.S. gas stations. But why not? A top proponent of E100 says offering 98-percent pure ethanol at the pump would not only benefit ethanol producers and consumers, but the environment and energy security. Could it happen?
By Katie Schroeder | May 17, 2022

Don Siefkes believes E100 can save the planet. Not alone, of course, but in parallel with the widespread adoption of other clean fuels and, yes, electric vehicles. He says offering consumers practical alternatives to gasoline—real choices that offer similar low- or net-zero carbon emissions results—is the fastest and most realistic way to immediately reduce vehicle emissions and mitigate climate change.

Siefkes, president of the California-based E100 Ethanol Group, is not E100’s only American proponent, but he may be the most recognized. E100 is often associated with Brazil, but Siefkes was far from equatorial South America when he had his aha moment about ethanol. On a trip to Antarctica, he saw tabular glaciers melting into the ocean and, soon thereafter, E100 Ethanol Group was born. The goal of the group is to ban the sale of new gasoline vehicles in the United States while allowing existing gasoline vehicles to stay on the road until they wear out. Siefkes believes several viable replacements for gasoline could be offered—he says people should have the freedom to choose—whether that be E100, electric vehicles, hydrogen power or something else. But he says ethanol is the most practical and abundantly available alternative.

What is E100?
“E100, technically, is E98,” Siefkes says. “Ninety-eight percent ethanol and two percent denaturant.” Most of the time, that denaturant is gasoline, however, isopropyl alcohol and ether are also approved additives. Getting ether combined with two parts per million of denatonium benzoate approved as an additive is one of the accomplishments E100 Ethanol Group is most proud of.

The most prevalent obstacle currently in the way of E100 in the U.S. is the fact that engines simply aren’t designed to burn pure ethanol. “You have to change the engine to optimize it to get [competitive] mileage on ethanol,” Siefkes says. “And right now, all the attempts that were done in the past used E85, which is 85 percent ethanol, in engines optimized for gasoline.” While flex-fuel engines are designed to accept high blends of ethanol, they aren’t necessarily optimized for them. As a result, Siefkes says, E85 has a reputation for relatively inferior mileage.

The U.S. Department of Energy agrees. In a recent report, the DOE stated, “If [FFVs] were optimized to run on higher ethanol blends, fuel economy would likely increase as a result of increased engine efficiency.” The DOE goes on to state, “Ethanol also has a higher-octane number than gasoline, which provides increased power and performance.”

E100 Ethanol Group proved that it is possible to get the same gas mileage with E100 as with gasoline by modifying a Ford Focus FFV, Siefkes says. “We modified it by increasing the compression ratio, changing the engine timing and running lien and more oxygen than is necessary to burn all the fuel,” he explains. “We matched the mileage with E85 and E100 with gasoline to prove that this is not an impediment. Once you do that, once you change the engine, you can no longer burn gasoline in it.”

Optimizing engines for E100 is entirely feasible, Siefkes says, but car companies don’t seem interested in it. “No car company wants to do something dramatic,” he says, explaining that companies like General Motors are more focused on going electric and don’t want to be the first to create an E100 engine. “They’re sort of like lemmings, they all want to do the same thing; they don’t want to do anything different. But if one does it, then they’ll all do it. But it takes somebody [saying], ‘Hey, carbon dioxide emissions from gasoline are killing us. We have to stop doing this.’”

Past and Present Examples
Brazil, the world’s second largest consumer of ethanol, is known for utilizing higher ethanol blends. E100 (hydrous ethanol) is sold at the pump in Brazil alongside 27 percent ethanol blends. Car engines can burn E100 but are still optimized for at least 70 percent gasoline blends, meaning they also struggle to get good gas mileage burning E98. “E100 sells for less than the gasoline, so the people in Brazil, they sort of choose between E100 and gasoline depending on price,” Siefkes says.

The entrenched nature of gasoline use in the U.S. makes the idea of detaching from it seem almost impossible. “It’s a huge inertia change, I mean we’ve been using gasoline for 100 years. But we did it before and we can do it again,” Siefkes says, referencing the phase out of leaded gasoline in the ’80s and ’90s. He says the nation’s move from leaded to unleaded gas serves as a template for how it could move to 98 percent ethanol today.

“When we banned the sale of leaded gasoline, now we didn’t ban the sale of leaded gasoline, we banned the sale of new cars that burned leaded gasoline and let existing vehicles burn leaded gasoline until they wore out, and that took 15 to 20 years,” Siefkes says. “And we think the same thing should happen, but it won’t happen voluntarily by the automobile industry; it’s going to take an act of Congress to ban the sale of new gasoline vehicles.”

Benefits of E100
The use of E100 has many potential benefits over gasoline (i.e., E10) and even electric vehicles, Siefkes explains. E100 could replace gasoline fairly easily because it can utilize the same infrastructure and is cheaper. Integrating E100 would be fairly simple, according to Siefkes. Gas stations would probably have to clean their gasoline tanks to get rid of any gunk and replace a gasket on the pump itself, but most of the pumps already blend fuel. Siefkes describes how the setup would look, “Most gas stations have four or five storage tanks, so one tank of premium gasoline, one tank of regular gasoline and another tank of E100—and then E100 could be pumped to that center pump on the dispenser.” This simplicity makes switching to ethanol more attractive than electric vehicles since the whole country switching—even just light-duty vehicles in the U.S.—to electric would require a significant increase in the production of electricity.

Siefkes believes that using replacements to gasoline would help keep the world’s oceans from rising, keep the consumer from dealing with constantly fluctuating gas prices and ensure energy independence for the United States. The environmental benefits of switching to E100 would be a good step toward addressing global warming, he says. “You have to stop it now, if you don’t stop it now, it’s going to be too late. And the way to stop it, the easiest way, is to simply ban the sale of new gasoline engines in the United States.”

Author: Katie Schroeder
Contact: [email protected]