08/13/2014 12:54 pm ET | Updated Oct 13, 2014

Proposed City of Chicago Ethanol Ordinance Would be a Step in the Right Direction

At Argonne National Laboratory, we work to discover and invent revolutionary green technologies that will build a new energy economy. But while we seek tomorrow's game-changing technologies, we also look for interim solutions that will help us to protect our environment today.

A proposed City of Chicago ordinance that would require most gas stations to offer E15 fuel - 15 percent ethanol, 85 percent gasoline - is one example of a smaller step we can take now to increase our use of renewable energy sources and limit greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change.

Ethanol is a biofuel, which means it is made from corn and other plants instead of from petroleum. Right now, the United States produces more than 13 billion gallons of ethanol a year - mostly from corn. That domestically produced ethanol now displaces more than 10 percent of our gasoline use. Soon, next-generation manufacturing facilities will begin producing ethanol using agricultural waste, such as corn stalks.

As compared with gasoline, burning ethanol substantially reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, the whole process of converting corn into ethanol and transporting it to city gas stations - going from field to wheels - consumes far less petroleum than refining and shipping gasoline.

Right now, the fuel we buy at Illinois gas stations contains up to 10% ethanol. By offering drivers the choice of a fuel containing 50 percent more ethanol, the City of Chicago could take a small - but significant - step toward making city cars more environmentally friendly.

Certainly, E15 is far from being the single "silver bullet" that can solve all our energy and environmental problems. But biofuels are an important option that can help reduce the greenhouse gases emitted by cars and trucks. And as a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory, Argonne is committed to examining every possible tactic to combat the threat of climate change.

With Argonne's GREET (Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Transportation) fuel cycle model , for example, we take a complete well-to-wheels view of the energy and environmental impacts of new types of fuel and advanced vehicle technologies. Through the GREET model, which is now used worldwide, we can consider the impacts, tradeoffs and benefits of every step involved in manufacturing new fuels, including biofuels, as well as the pollution emitted when vehicles burn those fuels.

We also work with automakers to find new ways to make cars and trucks more energy-efficient. We even have a Green Racing program, demonstrating advanced car technologies and alternative fuels that can be used in cars on high-speed racetracks. (In fact, a group of Argonne researchers have shown that a racing car engine using E85 - 85 percent ethanol and only 15 percent gasoline - actually outperforms the same engine with gasoline in both performance and efficiency.)

But our research indicates that, if the City of Chicago makes this higher-ethanol fuel available at gas stations, every person who opts for E15 will be making a small but real contribution toward our long-term goal of a clean energy future.