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Illinois Renewable Fuels Association

[FAQ] What are the health concerns regarding ethanol?

While ethanol has a higher volatility than gasoline, meaning it vaporizes more quickly, it is a cleaner-burning alternative to petroleum-based octane boosters. Additionally, the toxicity of ethanol is low compared to the health effects of BTEX and its combustion products, such as ultrafine particulates (UFPs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). A modest increase of ethanol content in fuel from 10 to 15 percent would result in an anticipated 6.6 percent reduction in cancer risk from tailpipe emissions.

 There is contradictory evidence that increasing ethanol content in gasoline increases nitrous oxide (NOX) emissions, an ozone precursor. Several studies find either no relationship between ethanol blending and NOX emissions, or find decreased NOX emissions with increasing ethanol volumes. Other studies suggest older cars emit more NOX when using ethanol blends. However, a study of 2012 make and model year vehicles found no increase in NOX emissions between E10, E15 and E20 blends, suggesting that both engine design and engine age play a role in NOX emissions. Overall, the effect of ethanol on NOX and carbon monoxide (CO) emissions is minor in newer engine emission control systems. 


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