Ethanol in California

Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, has the chemical formula C2H5OH. It is the same alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, but ethanol also makes an effective motor fuel. While the majority of ethanol in both the California and the rest of the U.S. is made from corn, it can also be produced using material from other plants. There have been decades of motor fuel application experience in the United States and other countries with ethanol.

In California, ethanol has replaced methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) as a gasoline component. Since the California Air Resources Board (CARB) raised the limit of ethanol blended into gasoline from 5.7% to 10% in 2010, most gasoline supplied in the state contains the maximum of 10 percent ethanol by volume. Over 1.5 billion gallons of ethanol was blended into California gasoline in 2015.

There is a small but growing market for E85 (generic term for fuel anywhere from 51-83% ethanol) for use in flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs), several million of which have been produced by U.S. automakers. While E85 is primarily found corn-producing Midwestern states, as of June 2016, there were 96 E85 fueling stations in the state, up from 39 in 2010. Ethanol is also being used to formulate a blend with diesel fuel, known as "E-Diesel", and as a replacement for leaded aviation gasoline in small aircraft.

Because ethanol contains less energy than gasoline, FFVs get, on average; 15%-27% lower fuel economy by volume than conventional gasoline vehicles (according to fueleconomy.gov).

Ethanol Use in California

Year Est. Fuel Ethanol Use
(Gallons)
Default Ethanol %
in Gasoline
2003588,742,5695.7
2004899,426,2565.7
2005953,699,1516
2006949,272,2226
2007939,616,8526
2008970,226,0266.5
2009964,152,6946.5
20101,488,270,16310
20111,464,238,50910
20121,453,286,61910
20131,460,360,12410
20141,478,132,56810
20151,519,421,24810

Source: California Energy Commission
Note:Fuel ethanol is assumed to contain an average level of denaturant and water content per all applicable ASTM and state standards at the time that may vary.

Looking to fill up? Find a natural gas station near you.

See the Energy.Gov Alternative Fueling Station Locator and select Ethanol (E85) fuel.
Current prices can be found at third party websites.