Ethanol and new car choices are helping Americans consume less petroleum

U.S. produced ethanol and improved fuel economy are making a significant dent in petroleum use.

Many American consumers are sensitive to issues related to petroleum consumption such as our reliance on imported crude oil and domestic economic development. But a more consistent reminder of petroleum issues is the prices at the pump. This topic may cause frustration for many of us who are paying an uncomfortable portion of our income on gasoline or fuel. However, there is some good news.

Americans are responding to the current economy and gasoline prices by buying vehicles that are getting better fuel economy than in the past. A recent University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute report says that the average fuel economy has improved by 18 percent. The improvement from 20.1 mpg to 23.8 mpg occurred between 2007 and 2012. The vehicles sold in this five-year period saved about 6.1 billion gallons of fuel compared to vehicles sold before 2007. Of course, this also means that the carbon dioxide emissions were also reduced, by almost 120 billion pounds.

In addition to the reduced gasoline use is the fact that Americans consumed more U.S. produced ethanol. Most of this ethanol was consumed as a 10 percent blend with petroleum gasoline which also reduced the emissions from automobiles. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that Americans consumed 34 percent more ethanol in 2012 compared to 2008. The use of ethanol increased from 9.68 billion gallons in 2008 to 12.95 billion gallons in 2012.

An additional factor of decreased petroleum use is the fact that Americans are driving fewer miles now. Miles driven have been decreasing steadily since 2008. There are many other contributing factors that are affecting the use of petroleum, but just those indicators listed above are proof that Americans are taking action to improve our petroleum consumption issues. The savings of 6.1 billion gallons from improved fuel efficiency added to the 3.27 billion gallons increased use of ethanol equal 9.37 billion gallons of reduced petroleum use between 2007 and 2012. To put this into some perspective, the United States uses about 134 billion gallons of gasoline per year.

While we have a long road ahead to continue improvement of our energy efficiency and developing alternative fuels, there are clear indicators that we are moving in the right direction. Michigan State University Extension continues to provide education and applied research in bioenergy topics which will assist in the adoption of products and practices that will reduce petroleum use and provide related environmental and economic benefits.

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