A recent Stanford University study that assesses the potential environmental impact of widespread E85 adoption is stirring up considerable media interest and public discussion.

It is also being cited by some critics as a reason to slow down on adoption of E85 use in the U.S. A good example showed up in a letter to the editor in the News Gazette in Champaign recently. Illinois Corn Growers Association District 6 Director Jill Parnell responded by pointing out the dangers of citing research based strictly on computer modeling.

"Corn-based ethanol is the largest and best contributor in the ongoing effort to lower our dependence on foreign oil and slow green house gas production," Parnell says.

The computer model used by Mark Jacobsen of Stanford makes a major assumption by starting off with the premise that every vehicle will be using E85 by the year 2020. This is highly unlikely in terms of the volume of ethanol this would demand and it ignores the ongoing evolution and improvements in fuel and automotive technology.

It is actually more likely that the internal combustion engine as we know it will be on its way out and we will be looking at better technologies like fuels cells or hybrid vehicles that can also take advantage of domestic ethanol.

It is important to keep in mind, she says, that computer modeling is difficult short term, let alone 13 years from now. Such models are only as good as the information fed into the computer.

You must always look at such studies with a critical eye. E85 does have emissions, like all fuels, but the bottom line is that the fuel is cleaner than gasoline and appears to be our best near-term option. Another study done by the auto industry noted that as much as 40 percent of the emissions resulting from E85 come from the 15 percent of the fuel, which is not E85...namely gasoline.

Michael Wang of the Argonne National Laboratory, a recognized expert in the field, did a similar study that noted a 30 percent reduction in green house gases in an urban setting with use of E85 fuel. The majority of available science on E85 emissions shows it to be a clear winner for its economic and environmental benefits.