E15 Coming Our Way?

Posted: September 24, 2010 in Being Green

Soon the EPA may approve use of up to E15 as the standard level of additive in gasoline (upping it from E10 or outright replacing the use of MTBE,which is a detergent).  As the Renewable Fuels Association is pushing for full scale adoption – we need to step back and be smart about the choices we make.  It sounds like a good idea at first by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels / foreign oil using local resources, however there are several big drawbacks.

  • Biologically created Ethanol only efficiently comes from using up actual foods stocks in North America.  This creates the appropriate amounts of sugars needed to create profitable ethanol.
  • Cellulostic Ethanol has not panned out in America at the time of this post no one has been able to ramp up production nor made it profitable (currently the largest customers are governments – Canada is the biggest).  It is not to say it is impossible as Brazil has a major and profitable Ethanol industry.  However it comes from sugar cane crops, where the left over stalks can be used efficiently to produce the sugars (easier to extract and sugar can stalks contain more sugar per volume than food grade corn itself) need for Ethanol creation.  Unfortunately, the US’s climate cannot support large scale sugar cane groves to even come close to supporting our consumption of fuel.
  • Using food stock for human or animal consumption (where we eat the animals or their byproducts) is an expensive trade off as our food prices rise.  For instance the price of High Fructose Corn Syrup is now more than sugar.  Several food makers have changed tact from using HFCS (which is a mix of corn syrup and sugar) to go back and use 100% sugar, such as the sudden revival of “Throwback” Pepsi or Mountain Dew.
  • Ethanol has 30% less energy density than gasoline and 50% less than diesel – so it takes more ethanol to create the same amount of power, thus reducing our fuel mileage.  An E85 car running which would normally get 400 miles per tank will now get ~ 300 miles per tank.  Ethanol however has higher octane than normal gasoline.
  • Burning Ethanol in our cars produces significantly more ground level Ozone (formaldehyde and acetaldehyde) making it dangerous for breathing in high concentrations.  An E85 burning car produces almost 3x the ozone as a gasoline powered car.
  • At this time any pricing advantage Ethanol has at the pump is actually due to Federal and State tax breaks and subsidies to reduce its expense artificially creating price parity.
  • E85 cannot travel through our regular gasoline pipelines b/c of its greater caustic nature and miscible with water (hygroscopic).  Thus, it must be hauled by tanker from ethanol producing regions (i.e mid America / Mid West) to the rest of the country.  Older cars cannot run E85 without complete fuel system replacement with ethanol compliant hardware.
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