NASCAR Gives E15 the Green Flag

Green Flag

NASCAR has reached a deal with the ethanol industry group, Growth Energy, to use blended E15 in all Sprint Cup races, starting next year. Though full terms of the agreement haven’t been disclosed, the six-year deal with America’s most popular motor sport constitutes one of the biggest investments the industry has ever made in selling mainstream consumers on the benefits of ethanol.

Groups like Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association have long spent tens of millions of dollars each year promoting the fuel, but past efforts have been focused mostly on policy makers and opinion leaders. After years of lobbying fees, campaign contributions, and Sunday morning talk show ad buys, ethanol has secured one of the most beneficial relationships with Washington of any industry—receiving billions each year in subsidies and benefiting from a federal mandate that could push the amount of ethanol in standard gasoline to nearly 30 percent by 2022.

But in order for the industry to ensure lasting success, consumers will have to be convinced that ethanol blends are, if not preferable to pure gasoline, at least no worse. While most gas stations currently sell E10, many drivers remain skeptical about the fuel and some flat out avoid it because of its potential to damage older cars and other vehicles and machines that run on gasoline.

The market for E85 (an 85 percent blend that can only be used by flex-fuel vehicles,) has also been slow to develop, with relatively few flex-fuel cars on the road and a scarcity in most regions of filling stations that carry the fuel. But American automakers have pledged to make half of the vehicles they sell flex-fuel capable by 2013, and if that happens, demand for the fuel could grow—if the price is right and consumers are confident in its viability.

The ethanol industry hopes that tying its product to NASCAR will prove the fuel is tough enough to meet the rigorous demands of a 500-mile race—after all, if E15 is good enough for Tony Stewart, shouldn’t it be good enough to get you to and from work?

But a couple of seemingly minor pitfalls could threaten the strategy if NASCAR’s most devoted fans decide that they don’t like the change:

  • It’s unclear exactly how the new blend will affect fuel economy or what kinds of adjustments NASCAR might make to offset this. Typically, E15 is about 4.5 percent less efficient than pure gasoline. Will this mean there will be more pit stops next year, and if so, will racing fans decry E15 as a “watered down” gas?
  • According to Jayski.com, NASCAR will be forced to switch to a special new kind of gas can capable of sealing moisture out of the fuel (a demand brought on by the ethanol blend.) The new cans could increase the average pit time by as much as a second—something that may or may not prove to be important to racing fans.

Any fuel-related issue that causes a driver to lose a race—whether or not it’s actually the fault of ethanol—could create a major public relations nightmare for the industry. But if things go smoothly, Growth Energy hopes that it will help to put consumers at ease about increasing levels of ethanol in their gasoline—and maybe even help to steer them towards flex-fuel vehicles and E85.


  • Max Stewart

    We are wondering the same things about the use of E15 in Nascar engines.

    The big problem will be both the loss of power and also the increase in the amount of water found naturally in E15. Will they use an additive to enhance to counter these efforts.

    Bell Performance is working on both of these issues and trying to find a balance for this new fuel source.

    Thanks for the post!
    Max Stewart
    Bell Performance

  • jack berry

    big deal. what is nascar saying? look at our outdated engine designs from the 1950′s…we are using 15% ethanol now. so what!

    just about everywhere i buy fuel across the country the gas has 10% ethanol already in it! it is not a matter of using tony stewart as a marketing tool. it is nascar coming to realize that the new car design is a loser and needing to “relate” to the fans in real life. they never use pump gas in the first place. it is racing fuel. so now they use racing fuel with 15% ethanol. maybe they should try racing on pump gas instead to make this more meaningful.

    the american lemans series has had a green challenge within its series for several years. they have manufacturer support from chevrolet, ford,bmw, ferrari, and porsche. for nascar to even come forward to say hey look at us now is just ridiculous.

  • jack e berry

    http://www.americanlemans.com/primary1.php?cat=green

    just in case you want a link to a racing series that is already doing its part for green racing.

  • Janni

    I don’t understand why they are doing this as ethanol is not the future. The EROEI (Energi Return On Energi Invested) of corn produced ethanol is at best 20%. The energi invested comes from fossil fuels. Also to produce it the farmers receive large amounts of subsidies. That is your tax money we’ve talking about here.

    I read somewhere that if all of the US agricultural land was used for ethanol production from corn it would be enough to fuel 15% of the cars. So it will NEVER be an alternative.

  • Samie

    Janni

    Beyond corn fields we would need to open up “marginal land” for grass ethanol that currently is used for wildlife protection, hunting activities, water supplies, flood control, ect….

    Also, I wonder if anyone has ever thought of the energy cycle of corn ethanol. If petroleum prices do increase, there will be higher prices in the energy chain (inputs, outputs, & through puts). Ethanol is highly reliant on cheap petro supplies.

    The Achilles heel of the industry is corn ethanol. Corn ethanol represents a major windfall for agro businesses but lacks any real advancement in ethanol technology. Moving to things like algae will unlikely happen as politicians continue to prop up the current dead end types of production and by the time the industry moves past corn hopefully most of use will move past ICE engines.