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The Inconvenient Truth About Ethanol

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  • bpizzutibpizzuti Posts: 2,743
    I think part of the supposed appeal of ethanol is that we can source it domestically. Same with natural gas, which also has less energy per unit of volume than gasoline (burns cleaner though).

    When one gets down to it, that IS a factor, plus the fact that most engines can burn a certain mixture of ethanol without modification.

    Burning pure ethanol is another story though, and we need a better source first, since corn ethanol takes about as much energy to produce as it produces itself.
  • pafromflpafromfl Posts: 47
    "Alcohol won't GO as far given the same volume, PERIOD. It's a fact of chemistry, and is not subject to legislation or wishes."
    Engine optimization also is involved. I've tested four cars on interstate highways and discovered that E10 reduces gas mileage by about 10%. It appears that you can drive the same distance whether the ethanol is in the tank or dumped on the ground (although maybe the quality of the 90% gasoline portion is the problem).
  • gagricegagrice Pahrump, NevadaPosts: 31,432
    You are right that we would do better dumping the ethanol on the ground or better yet drinking it. I think that is what happened when they passed the mandates on that crap. they were all drinking alcohol with the lobbyist from ADM. They are the only ones making money.

    When all the corn stills go broke and close it will be more people in the Midwest out of work. It happened in the last big recession in the late 1970s and early 80s. They shut down over 90 Corn ethanol plants. How many will go down this time around?
  • PF_FlyerPF_Flyer Pennsylvania Furnace, PAPosts: 8,877
    Since the intro of ethanol, mileage on my vehicles, and anyone else I know who carefully monitors the mileage of their vehicles, is down a solid 8-10%.

    Couple that with all the news stories I've seen recently about a world food crisis, and it would appear to be utter insanity to want to add MORE ethanol to fuel, but we have a bunch of people that want to do exactly that.

    To quote a closing line for one of my favorite movies of all time, The Bridge on the River Kwai...

    Madness... madness!

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  • bpizzutibpizzuti Posts: 2,743
    Couple that with all the news stories I've seen recently about a world food crisis, and it would appear to be utter insanity to want to add MORE ethanol to fuel, but we have a bunch of people that want to do exactly that.

    Well, let's say it's madness to convert food into ethanol. If we had a non-food source it would be a better idea.
  • PF_FlyerPF_Flyer Pennsylvania Furnace, PAPosts: 8,877

    Well, let's say it's madness to convert food into ethanol. If we had a non-food source it would be a better idea.


    Not a better idea if the idea is to cut down on use of oil. Exactly how much oil/gas am I saving when a 10% blend of ethanol reduces my mileage by 10%, because that's how much my mileage dropped instantly with the introduction of 10% ethanol into my area and it has stayed there. Let's see, the math could be tricky. Just for an example with round numbers, assume I had a 10 gallon tank and was getting 30 miles to the gallon. So I use 10 gallons of gas to go 300 miles. Now fill up with a 90/10 gas/ethanol mix (and remember that on most of the pumps around here it says UP TO 10% ethanol) and my mileage drops to 27 mpg. So to travel the same 300 miles I have to use 11.11111... gallons of gas/ethanol blend. Since 90% of that blend is gas, I'm using the same 10 gallons of gasoline that I was before.

    I save no money as the price at the pump didn't drop a cent with the introduction of ethanol. I'm not cutting back on my use of gasoline so throw the emissions argument out the window. And we've managed to affect the commodities market to boot.

    I think I'll stand by my madness claim.

    I didn't even have to pull out the claim by some that the "right mix" of ethanol and gasoline actually increases mileage. :confuse:

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  • jkinzeljkinzel Posts: 735
    Well, let's say it's madness to convert food into ethanol. If we had a non-food source it would be a better idea.

    Why are we putting so much effort into a product that instantly takes 10% value right off the top?

    If all the effort that has been put into ethanol had been put into biodiesel, we would be well on our way to oil independence without creating a food crisis. Biodiesel/diesel almost doubles the MPG over E10 and does not require the use of food crops.
  • bpizzutibpizzuti Posts: 2,743
    of ethanol blends is that it reduces the amount of oil we need to import and doesn't require any mechanical changes or technology development and improvement to make use of (even though it carries less energy than the oil we WOULD import, we don't need as much as before, or we wouldn't if we weren't a bunch of idiots buying v8 SUVs to carry one person and no cargo, heh). Granted that's the only benefit, but it can be used as a stopgap while we work on, say getting more natural gas engines and conversion kits out there.

    Of course if they DO manage to convert waste, woodchips, or switchgrass to ethanol, and it uses up less energy to create and convert than it generates when burned, then it might be viable to get more E100 engines out there. Key word, "if."

    Biodeisel is a good one too...to be honest it's a better idea for commerical. Trains and semis would be able to run it as-is. We still need to find the right car alternative, and there's still competition (natural gas, ethanol, hybrid, EVs, ethanol-burning hybrids, hey how about an NG hybrid?) mostly because of concerns with producing the stuff.

    Of course, one of the downsides of ethanol is some group of idiots (a group usually concentrated in Washington DC) gets the bright idea of converting food into fuel, so that, while we starve, at least we can haul our boats, right?
  • morin2morin2 Posts: 399
    PF_Flyer pointed out that there is no gas savings since the vehicles are going fewer miles on a gallon, and I agree with him. My concern is the longevity of engines as ethanol % increases. Marine mechanics are working overtime as this garbage ruins fuel tanks and outboard motor carbureters. Want a growth industry - learn to rebuild marine carbureters. Every time I go out, I see boats being towed in for engine failure. Locally, the number 1 pollution problem of our Chesapeake Bay is excess nutrients - nitrogen and phosphorus. Growing corn requires plenty of fertilizer - exactly what we don't need. The loss of production from the Bay is a big loss but the cleanup costs are enormous. Thank you ethanol industry. The only ones to benefit from ethanol fuels are the heavily subsidized ethanol producers. If they have to be subsidized, I think the country would be better off is they were paid to not produce ethanol.
  • gagricegagrice Pahrump, NevadaPosts: 31,432
    Of course if they DO manage to convert waste, woodchips, or switchgrass to ethanol, and it uses up less energy to create and convert than it generates when burned, then it might be viable to get more E100 engines out there. Key word, "if."

    I'm glad you used the word IF. That is the big issue. No one has built a plant that can produce ethanol from waste, (switchgrass) etc, that does not require more fossil fuel than it replaces. VW builds cars for Brazil that will run on gas or pure ethanol. Of course Brazil is cutting down the rain forest to plant sugar to make ethanol. How great is that? Right now there is over $2 per gallon subsidy on raising corn for ethanol. Not to mention several of the new ethanol stills are heating with COAL. There goes any environmental benefit. Even with the subsidies the price of corn is driving the small operators into bankruptcy. More jobs gone, thanks to our meddling government.
  • bpizzutibpizzuti Posts: 2,743
    Well, hey, we could always use more sugar. :shades:
  • cvs20cvs20 Posts: 14
    Engine optimization is certainly going to help improve performance of ethanol fuels. In my last message, I was exceedingly kind to the ethanol folks with economy figures. Actually, it takes 1.50 gallons of pure ethanol to replace 1.0 gallon of gasoline. E85 requires 1.35 gallons, and 10% blend 1.05 gallons to do the equivalent of 1.0 gallon of gasoline. In other words, E85 would have to sell at 74% the price of gasoline to be competitive. My 4th Year Engineering Project in College was researching ethanol as a motor fuel (note: at that time gasoline was about $035 per gallon, and my test fuel was $7.56 per gallon - because of gov't tarrif). It DOES have its good points: ethyl alcohol exhibits a much higher octane rating than gasoline. I was able to run at compression ratios around 16 : 1 without "knocking" as opposed to 9 or 10 : 1 for gasoline, and the 10% blend can reduce knocking in most normal engines. Because of the high pressures available, an engine can produce much more power on ethanol or E85.
    Power and Economy are at odds: the more power produced, the faster fuel is burned, just like Congress throwing money at problems in order to maintain their power.
    I also agree that the politicians must be either drinking some, or smoking something, to not understand the basics, or else someone is blowing smoke up.....
    Local sourcing is GREAT, but in just a few years the population will have grown to the point where there are only about 2 acres of arable land per person. If corn were to be used, an acre of corn can supply about 300 gallons of ethanol, so, we either starve and use 600 gallons of fuel, or we eat.
  • cvs20cvs20 Posts: 14
    Great idea. Less corn required!
    Oceanic algae has also recently come on stage. :)
  • cvs20cvs20 Posts: 14
    When things get really bad, we could use 1 acre of land for food, and one to drink! ;)
  • cvs20cvs20 Posts: 14
    That's exactly what my Mechanical Engineering research showed, but did anyone ever read it or use it (it was done for the Associate Dean, who was my Senior Project Advisor.

    My question to the corn-based proponents is: what fuel do you use to produce the corn, and to make the equipment, etc??

    Don't even get me STARTED on the hydrogen debacle! :cry:
  • cvs20cvs20 Posts: 14
    Bio-Diesel is a viable contender, but also has some baggage. Diesel engines require compression ratios between 14 : 1 and 25 : 1. The extreme pressures require stronger, and most likely heavier, engines and components, and more weight requires more fuel.

    One possible configuration for vehicles might be to copy the railroads on a smaller scale. The Diesel-electric configuration of most railroad traction motors uses Diesel engines to drive generators which, in turn, apply power to electric drive motors. The beauty of that is that the generator-to-motor energy transmission can approach 60% efficiency (that is, each 100 revolutions of the generator can cause 60 revolutions at each drive motor.

    That's the main reason steam trains are mostly history - just can't compete. :D
  • cvs20cvs20 Posts: 14
    Yeah, alcohol is corrosive to unprotected steel parts, and also is hazardous to most common, low priced, seals and other elastomer components. Tends to leach out the "plasticizers" leaving the parts brittle.

    It is also hygroscopic (absorbs water and often used to clean up accumulated fuel tank water), but then is quickly burned through the engine with little to no residue, but a tank full including absorbed water will further reduce economy.

    Theoretically, E10 performance should be 95% that of gasoline. Which means that my well designed 30 mpg car should only get 28.5 mpg with E10. This is where I DO run many times on the highway. Sometimes it drops to around 27 mpg, and that REALLY ticks me because I got stuck with expensive watered-down blended fuel !!! :mad:

    It takes 1.50 gallons of ethanol (E100) to equal 1 gallon of gasoline.
    It takes 2.00 gallons of methanol (M100) to do the same.

    Best thing about either is you can extinguish a fire using only water !! :shades:
  • gagricegagrice Pahrump, NevadaPosts: 31,432
    When things get really bad, we could use 1 acre of land for food, and one to drink!

    Sadly the price of exporting corn to Mexico is so high that the farmers are digging up the blue agave and planting corn. No blue agave no good tequila. Now if that ain't a serious problem I don't know what is.
  • colloquorcolloquor Posts: 482
    FWIW... here in central Illinois, 10% ethanol blended gas has been around since the mid-80s. It's almost impossible to buy gas in this area without 10% ethanol. Only one station that I was aware of in the Champaign-Urbana area offered non-ethanol blended gasoline, and now that station has switched to 10% ethanol blend too. For most of midwesterners, 10% ethanol blended gas is a way of life, and has been for over 2 decades.
  • gagricegagrice Pahrump, NevadaPosts: 31,432
    In the late 1970s they were lacing gas with ethanol in MN. We know how that experiment ended in the early 1980s. 90+ towns devastated by closing the Corn Ethanol stills and laying off 100s of workers.
  • jkinzeljkinzel Posts: 735
    10% ethanol blended gas is a way of life,

    10% ethanol is also a way of life in the state of Washington thanks to the dictatorship of our Governor. If I could find pure gasoline, I would drive some distance to get it.
  • gagricegagrice Pahrump, NevadaPosts: 31,432
    Luckily you have a diesel car to beat the odds on ethanol laced gas.
  • jkinzeljkinzel Posts: 735
    Yes, it is nice to have a choice in gas or diesel, but I would still like to have a source of pure gas to run the mowers, chainsaw, etc. and yes, put in the car.
  • cvs20cvs20 Posts: 14
    That is a SERIOUS issue about the tequila !! :shades:
    Blue agave makes GREAT fuel for dating!
  • cvs20cvs20 Posts: 14
    You can't make ethanol from wood chips, switch grass, etc. It WILL make methanol (wood alcohol), but it is a lower energy fuel than ethanol.

    It takes 2.00 gallons of methanol to replace 1.00 gallon of pure gasoline.
    It takes ONLY 1.50 gallon of ethanol to do the same thing.

    Besides, if your vehicle breaks down, you can"t drink the methanol! :surprise:
  • texasestexases Posts: 8,802
    Not yet for ethanol from cellulose, but that's the great 'hope' that's been used by some to justify the disaster that is corn-based ethanol. And it you think ethanol is corrosive? Methanol's way worse, would require complete refitting.
  • morin2morin2 Posts: 399
    I would be willing to pay slightly more for undiluted gas. Here in MD, the gas stations are not required to post the ethanol content on the pumps. Some pumps have stickers indicating that the fuel "may contain up to 10% ethanol". About half the pumps have no label. I've started testing the ethanol content so I can buy from the stations with better gas for my boat and vehicles. Some of the unlabelled pumps have higher ethanol content than the labelled "up to 10%" pumps. The range I've observed has been 6 to 10%. I haven't tested gas at marinas yet - that's next.
  • galongagalonga Posts: 50
    Hi everyone

    I´m looking for a flex conversion kit for my car. I´ve seen many models and they all the same.

    There´s this one however that claims it employs brazilian technology.

    www.1hourflex.com

    I read that Brazil has been running successfully e100 for over 3 decades, so I suppose they have more experience?

    Does anyone know that company? Do you think their sales pitch makes sense?

    Thanks! :)
  • jkinzeljkinzel Posts: 735
    I’m not sure you’re going to get much positive information about ethanol on this thread; ethanol has a lot of negatives and very few positives.

    If you really want to cut down on fuel consumption, buy a diesel. A VW Jetta TDI gets about 45 to 50 MPG. Do your home work, but I don’t think ethanol is the way to go.
  • galongagalonga Posts: 50
    Tell me then why do you think ethanol is not the way to go?

    I mean, if a WHOLE COUNTRY has been running it for over 3 decades with no problem as I´ve read, doesn´t that prove it works?
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