Team Tennessee Works to Address the “Food Versus Fuel” Issue

The utilization of ethanol as fuel for the vehicle designed by the University of Tennessee for EcoCAR 2 has come with a unique set of challenges for the team, especially in regards to public acceptance. Over the course of several outreach events, it has become clear to the team that the local community has been flooded with myths about ethanol and its production. However, with the progression of alternative fuels and close collaboration with East Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition, Team Tennessee seeks to create positive attitudes among the community by demonstrating the advantages of ethanol.

The production and supply of ethanol have continually progressed and the nearby Genera Biomass Innovation Plant in Vonore, TN has created a unique outlet. While the primary feedstock used to produce ethanol is corn, Tennessee has begun research and production with switchgrass, which is used to make cellulosic ethanol. This form of ethanol is viewed much more positively because it does not deplete food resources and can be grown on marginable land.

Ethanol also has negative connotations because of its 26% loss in energy when compared to other fuels. However, the high octane levels contained in ethanol provide increased power and performance of vehicles. These advantages have also contributed to a 19-48% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions with cellulosic ethanol according to a study conducted by Argonne National Laboratory.

All gasoline now contains at least 10% ethanol, a practice that saved 485 million barrels in foreign oil consumption in 2011 alone. Also, with advancements of E85, a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, over eight million flex fuel vehicles (FFV) which are compatible with this fuel have been sold. East Tennessee currently has sixteen public  E85 stations, and with Team Tennessee’s efforts to develop a hybrid which runs on ethanol, the road to cleaner air is becoming a reality.