About a month ago some of the newer Sheetz convenience stores in our area started selling E15 and E85 fuel, that is gasoline blended with 15% and 85% ethyl alcohol commonly called ethanol. The E15 a step up from the E10 that virtually all stations currently sell with the exception of a few that offer ‘pure‘ gasoline at a substantially higher price. The E15 signage indicates that it is compatible with 2001 and newer automobiles. The E85 pump indicates it is for Flex-Fuel vehicles only. Being in the automobile repair field I have been warned about the evils of using alcohol as vehicle fuel by the automakers. Of course they are also the one’s pushing 10,000 mile oil change intervals, and I’ve seen the results first hand of that. A car that only gets minimal service every 10,000 miles will have to be replaced around 100,000; my last car went 450,000 miles before needing engine work. I’ve never known anyone to regret maintaining a vehicle well. All that said, I realize that the automakers have to provide support for millions of vehicles and having a known fuel quality makes life easier for them. I’m cautiously skeptical.
Prior Alcohol Fuel Experience
I hear horror stories of vehicles running alcohol blends having drivability problems, and I personally have never seen it. When I worked in the Acura dealership in the 90’s there was a string of stations around Greensboro, NC called ‘U-Fill-R-Up’ that marketed a M15 blend of 15% methanol. I ran it in, though not exclusively, in an 83 Toyota Tercel, an 87 Suzuki Samurai and a 93 Mazda B-2600i pickup. Two carbuerated, one fuel injected. I never saw a problem with any of them. We were still reaping the benefits of the Reagan economy, I was making good money, gas was relatively cheap, so I didn’t keep close tabs on fuel economy. ‘U-Fill-R-Up’ was less expensive, so I used it and never bothered to track milage.
A Plan Is Hatched
Fast forward to today, I have a smart phone with a Fuel Log app and log every tank of fuel and have statistics for my statistics. I have a bluetooth dongle to connect to the OnBoard Diagnostics port of my 2006 Honda Element, I already have an OBD2 app called Torque installed. A bit of Google-Foo later I decided to do some experiments. Alcohol anyone?
How Can You Do That?!?
First I need to ask and answer some questions that keep coming up about why someone would want to use ethanol as fuel, and arguments of not doing so. One of my co-workers has already jumped astraddle of me with his moral stance of why to NOT use it. I’ll list so pros and cons.
Pro-Reduce Dependence On Foreign Oil – This is part of my decision to experiment with it. We are currently sending a tremendous amount of money to foreign countries that hate us, countries that fund terrorists that wish to kill us.
Pro-It Is A Renewable Resource – Ethanol (and methanol) can be made from crops that our own farmers grow. Use of ethanol reduces hydrocarbon usage. Brazil has been converting their sugar cane to fuel for years. They have no known oil reserves and have to import every drop of oil that they use. It is a boon to their farm economy.
Pro-It is cleaner burning.
Con-Ethanol has a lower BTU, less energy potentional results in lower fuel economy. But it’s cleaner and less expensive.
Con-We are running cars on food. This is my co-worker’s big argument, ‘there are people around the world starving…’ Yes there are, but we are already the leading supplier of humanitarian aid in the world. We send food, we send money; much of which never actually gets to the intended recipients.
Con-The reason it is less expensive is that the government is subsidizing it. This is my co-worker’s second argument. My response, what a novel idea, do something that helps benefits US farm and energy workers.
You could probably find more pros and cons, but that is enough for now.