An E85 Ethanol Fuel Impact Study for Wake County, North Carolina Addressing Economical, Operational, Environmental, and Social Issues

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Title: An E85 Ethanol Fuel Impact Study for Wake County, North Carolina Addressing Economical, Operational, Environmental, and Social Issues
Author: Roy, Bryan Erik
Advisors: Dr. Alexander Hobbs, Committee Member
Dr. Richard Johnson, Committee Chair
Dr. Herbert Eckerlin, Committee Member
Abstract: The value of ethanol as an alternative fuel has recently been a highly debated topic. There have been many strong opinions for and against its use expressed by governmental agencies, public interest, and industrial groups. The objective of this study was to determine the impact of using ethanol fuel in the U.S. and particularly Wake County, North Carolina, from an economical, operational, environmental, and social view. Current corn production and ethanol fermentation methods produce the fuel at a net energy gain in addition to creating valuable co-products such as corn oil or dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS). North Carolina can currently benefit economically from the ethanol production industry, but not agriculturally until other feedstocks besides corn are utilized. This climate is not good for corn growing, which is why NC imports a large amount each year for animal feed. Since corn is already transported here, using some for ethanol fermentation while still producing high protein DDGS for the hog and poultry industry can be profitable. Wake County has a large flex-fueled vehicle (FFV) population close to 9,000 that can use ethanol as a fuel. This will drive the region?s ethanol fuel market in addition to what can be distributed to other close populated centers such as Charlotte, Richmond, and even Washington D.C. FFVs have the ability to operate on any ethanol blend from 0-85% with no performance differences except for a decrease in fuel economy. The three tested FFVs in this study showed a 24.3% drop in fuel economy when using E85. This amounted to a 0.58 gallon displacement of gasoline when one gallon of E85 was used by Wake County's flex-fueled vehicles. Using E85 can significantly reduce the petroleum import when utilized by every FFV owner. On-road tests also showed an average reduction of 52% in carbon monoxide emissions when using E85, which can help some counties in North Carolina that have been in danger of being classified as a non-attainment area for carbon monoxide. Other emissions such as nitric oxides and hydrocarbons varied with each vehicle, but showed no significant overall result that would negate the carbon monoxide benefit. Additionally, when accounting for the agricultural production, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will not increase as much with ethanol as when burning gasoline. In a survey of flex-fueled vehicle owners in Wake County, it was found that only 13% knew that their vehicle could run on a fuel other than gasoline. In a population that indicated they were very concerned with the state of fuel in the U.S., particularly because of the rising costs and the dependence on foreign oil, it was surprising that so many were unaware of their vehicle's capability to use an alternative fuel. However, 93% were willing to buy an alternative fuel and 85% would factor in the type of fuel a vehicle used before buying their next automobile. This indicates that we need more reliable and clear information about alternatives available to consumers. From the benefits found in this impact study, ethanol is concluded to be a viable alternative fuel for this area right now. Efforts should be made in the ethanol industry to increase production and make the alternative available so consumers have a choice and can decide for themselves if ethanol will play a large part in our fuel consumption in the future.
Date: 2005-08-23
Degree: MS
Discipline: Mechanical Engineering

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