High-Octane Mid-Level Ethanol Blend Market Assessment

Caley Johnson, Emily Newes, Aaron Brooker, Robert McCormick, Steve Peterson, Paul Leiby, Rocio Martinez, Gbadebo Oladosu, Maxwell Brown

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


The United States government has been promoting increased use of biofuels, including ethanol from non-food feedstocks, through policies contained in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The objective is to enhance energy security, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and provide economic benefits. However, the United States has reached the ethanol blend wall, where more ethanol is produced domestically than can be blended into standard gasoline. Nearly all ethanol is blended at 10 volume percent (vol%) in gasoline. At the same time, the introduction of more stringent standards for fuel economy and GHG tailpipe emissions is driving research to increase the efficiency of spark ignition (SI) engines. Advanced strategies for increasing SI engine efficiency are enabled by higher octane number (more highly knock-resistant) fuels. Ethanol has a research octane number (RON) of 109, compared to typical U.S. regular gasoline at 91-93. Accordingly, high RON ethanol blends containing 20 vol% to 40 vol% ethanol are being extensively studied as fuels that enable design of more efficient engines. These blends are referred to as high-octane fuel (HOF) in this report. HOF could enable dramatic growth in the U.S. ethanol industry, with consequent energy security and GHG emission benefits, while also supporting introduction of more efficient vehicles. HOF could provide the additional ethanol demand necessary for more widespread deployment of cellulosic ethanol. However, the potential of HOF can be realized only if it is adopted by the motor fuel marketplace. This study assesses the feasibility, economics, and logistics of this adoption by the four required participants--drivers, vehicle manufacturers, fuel retailers, and fuel producers. It first assesses the benefits that could motivate these participants to adopt HOF. Then it focuses on the drawbacks and barriers that these participants could face when adopting HOF and proposes strategies--including incentives and policies--to curtail these barriers. These curtailment strategies are grouped into scenarios that are then modeled to investigate their feasibility and explore the dynamics involved in HOF deployment. This report does not advocate for or against incentives or policies, but presents simulations of their effects.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages123
StatePublished - 2015

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5400-63698


  • biofuels
  • ethanol
  • GHG emissions
  • greenhouse gas emissions (GHG)
  • high-octane fuel
  • HOF


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