So, how’s that ethanol working for you?
It’s been a few weeks now since Maine started going gung ho with the transition into delivering E10 into your brand new, designed for alcohol fuel cars. Oh, that’s right, you make less than the mean average wage and can’t afford a brand new car. Don’t feel too bad, I can’t afford one either. I happen to have a ’94 Volvo. Nice car though. Not much cost involved in maintenance, and I get great mileage with it. Or at least I did, once upon a time.
I filled up with E10 a couple of times, and I did notice a definite difference in the operation of the car. My mileage went down, for one. I had been getting about 23-24 mpg, but lately since I have been using E10 a couple of times it has gone down to an average of 21-22 mpg. Could be coincidental, and maybe there is some kind of mechanical thing that is out of whack. But I’ve noticed that where my RPM gauge used to be smooth and steady, it now fluctuates. I also noticed that pick up when leaving a stopped position is also harder. I have to press harder on the pedal, and I don’t gain speed as quickly as I did before. Again, might be some real problem, but we’ll see.
I’m going to stand by my decision to call ethanol a bad choice for replacement of petroleum based auto fuel. Pound for pound, you can’t beat the BTU output of petro based fuels. Notice I said petro based, and not carbon based. That’s because ethanol is still a carbon based fuel. Some people think that by burning ethanol instead of oil, we won’t be pumping any of that nasty global warming CO2 into the air. Not true my friends. One of the by-products of ethanol is in fact, CO2. But there are some other concerns as well in the manufacturing process, called distillation, of alcohol for fuel usage. A 13 may, 2002 article in Chemical and Engineering News says that the EPA reports that “An EPA spokesman says tests by the federal agency and state regulators at a number of ethanol plants found emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carbon monoxide that were many times greater than companies had reported. Organic compounds included three chemicals ranked as hazardous air pollutants: acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, and acrolein, he tells C&EN.” You can find more EPA information regarding ethanol here.
Let’s look at some of the picture. Estimates suggest that it takes about 26 pounds of corn to produce a gallon of ethanol, and one acre of land can produce enough corn to distill 360 some gallons per year of ethanol. Of course, that is based upon an ideal year, with perfect corn growing weather, no spring flooding, and plenty of fertilizer dumped on the crops. In a 20 Feb. 2004 USA article, Andrew Kantor suggests that it would take 13 million more tons of fertilizer than current (2004) figures, as well as adding 93.5 million more tons of Atrazine to the atmosphere, and more importantly groundwater and localized environments. Without the chemical fertilization, we don’t get the yield, which would result in a larger demand for land transferred into crop for fuel status.
You know, it’s amazing that we don’t see in the mainstream media that the distillation, or manufacturing process in ethanol production about how the process uses ungodly amounts of water, not to mention the fact that it takes more energy to make the stuff than we get by its usage. Nor do we read about the types and quantities of VOC’s that get pumped into the air, nor do we hear much about the fact that the manufacturers are getting a tax credit of 51 cents per gallon for the fuel. But how much of that credit gets passed on to the consumer? Not one copper penny, and in fact, the actual cost of fuel for your car goes up when you use ethanol as an additive. The price at the pump hasn’t gone down, but the efficiency or mileage of your vehicle drops, meaning you have to buy more fuel. This doesn’t sound to me like we’re gaining independence from foreign oil.
Consumer Reports has an interesting article of this discussion, using a Tahoe as a test vehicle. Here is what they have to say about ethanol in the Tahoe;
But after putting a 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe FFV through an array of fuel economy, acceleration, and emissions tests, and interviewing more than 50 experts on ethanol fuel, CR determined that E85 will cost consumers more money than gasoline and that there are concerns about whether the government’s support of FFVs is really helping the U.S. achieve energy independence. Among our findings:
- The fuel economy of the Tahoe dropped 27 percent when running on E85 compared with gasoline, from an already low 14 mpg overall to 10 mpg…
- With the retail pump price of E85 averaging $2.91 per gallon in August, according to the Oil Price Information Service, which tracks petroleum and other fuel prices, a 27 percent fuel-economy penalty means drivers would have paid an average of $3.99 for the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline.
- When we calculated the Tahoe’s driving range, we found that it decreased to about 300 miles on a full tank of E85 compared with about 440 on gasoline. So you have to fill up more often with E85.
- The majority of FFVs are large vehicles like the Tahoe that get relatively poor fuel economy even on gasoline.
- Because E85 is primarily sold in the upper Midwest, most drivers in the country have no access to the fuel, even if they want it.
The Consumer Reports organization is usually pretty liberal/left wing with their reporting, so when they say it can be bad news, it probably is. Especially since most of that crowd has a vile opinion towards petro based fuels. Part of the problem with it being bad is that here in the US, Corn is being promoted as the only crop to use for the conversion product. How come we aren’t looking at, say… sugar beets? Sugar cane is one of the best plants for conversion as it produces much more alcohol per pound compared to corn, so what about sugar beets? Maine farmers could get in on the bandwagon and introduce them into the crop rotation plans they use for sustainable farming practices. And make some money on the product as well.
To get back to the CO2 issue, industry generally bases emissions on what are called “emission factors” which equate to a lbs per gallon calculation. A one page pdf, found here, states that the average lifecycle factors of CO2 for gasoline is 24.30 pounds per gallon(ppg), diesel is 26.55 ppg, ethanol is 14.60 ppg, and biodiesel is 5.84 ppg. So we can see that there is indeed still an output of CO2 into the atmosphere even when we use ethanol. Yes, the rate is much lower, but what of the other VOC’s. I’ll save that for another post, but for now, it seems that if we really want to remove our dependence upon petro fuels, we’d be finding a way to build and market an affordable vehicle that runs purely upon biodiesel, and work at building an infrastructure to deliver that fuel to the public. But we’re not. That’s Dan’s Maine View for today, folks.
Important “must read” for ethanol users….