Magazine article Science News

Not-So-Clear Alternative: In Its Air-Quality Effects, Ethanol Fuel Is Similar to Gasoline

Magazine article Science News

Not-So-Clear Alternative: In Its Air-Quality Effects, Ethanol Fuel Is Similar to Gasoline

Article excerpt

Switching the nation's vehicles from gasoline to mostly ethanol will not reduce air pollution, a new study finds. The work joins other evidence questioning the benefits of ethanol fuel.

Mark Z. Jacobson, an atmospheric scientist at Stanford University, created a model that takes into account how the chemicals emitted in car exhaust transform through reactions in the atmosphere. He combined the resulting chemical profile with population and health-effects data to determine the risks associated with each of the fuels.

Jacobson looked at emissions from E85, the 85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline blend considered a potentially large-scale replacement for gasoline. He examined a scenario based on expected emissions in 2020, the first year that he says that E85-ready cars might dominate the roads.

Jacobson's calculations predicted health effects in response to ozone and carcinogens attributable to an all-gasoline fleet or an all-E85 fleet. He found that E85 use may increase asthma, hospitalizations, and death caused by ozone exposure by about 9 percent in Los Angeles and by 4 percent, on average, across the nation. The rise in ozone-related problems partially stemmed from larger releases of two ozone precursors--acetaldehyde and formaldehyde--from E85 as compared with gasoline.

Acetaldehyde and formaldehyde are also two of the four major human carcinogens in E85 and gasoline exhaust. E85 use lowered atmospheric concentrations of the other two major carcinogens--1,3-butadiene and benzene--as compared with gasoline use. …

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