Daily Archives: July 13, 2008

Ethanol != Gasoline

I have to applaud Industry Week for an article they ran a couple of months back on how Raising Ethanol Levels Could Hurt Consumers, Manufacturers — If Not Done Right and shedding even more light onto why ethanol, and corn-based ethanol in particular, is not the answer. Not only are we on the verge of a Global Food Crisis, with food supplies the lowest they’ve been in at least 50, if not 100, years, but, as the article so astutely points out, raising ethanol levels in blended gasoline can be harmful to many devices, as most devices in North America were designed to run on a 10% ethanol mix, if not a 0% ethanol mix.

Of course, this hasn’t stopped at least one state (namely, Minnesota) from ignoring this fact and passing ridiculous legislation that all gasoline sold in the state be E20 (the short name for 20% by volume ethanol blended gasoline). Now, it’s true that they have a study that concluded that E20 will not harm current automotive fuel systems, which I’m not sure I believe considering many vehicles on the road were designed for E0, and that E20 apparently provides similar power and performance to E10 (and if your factor of error is large enough, I might buy that), but they’re overlooking one very important fact – cars aren’t the only piece of technology that runs on gasoline! Americans love their ride-on lawnmowers and their gasoline powered chain-saws. Many people have back-up power generators that run on gasoline … and many hobby pilots have small planes that run on gasoline. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Did the study test every single product out there that runs on gasoline? All 400 Million of them? Not even close! North America is not Brazil. Flex-Flux Vehicles (FFVs) and other Flex-Flux Engine (FFEs) technologies might be common there, where a 20% blend is perfectly fine (and doubly fine when you can make highly-efficient ethanol from abundant and easily grown sugarcane and not inefficient to produce corn-based ethanol where the corn-for-ethanol production reduces food supplies when there are still a number of countries in Africa where people are still starving on a daily basis), but they are not common, if you can even get your hands on them at all (legally), in North America.

Furthermore, small engines react differently to ethanol mixes than large engines, and often do so in ways that are dangerous. As the article deftly points out boat engines may seize up and gas may leak, the RPM increases on chainsaws as the clutch and chain are constantly engaged, and rubber and other components in small engine products grow corroded and all of this can lead to engine and product failure, and potentially, safety hazards.

So next time someone starts preaching about how ethanol is our savior, point them to this article and AllSAFE. It’s not the answer.

What is the answer? In the short term, it’s actually a really simple one. Stop buying energy from power plants that burn oil and petroleum products. Remember – you’re purchasers and you have the power! Over 20% of energy production in the USA is from oil and petroleum burning plants. If we replaced these plants with solar, wind, and hydro plants, that would increase the oil available for transportation needs by 150%. In the short term, we’d be swimming in it! (The Transportation sector uses roughly 40% of the 7665+ million barrels of oil consumed by the US each year.)