Is Ethanol the Answer?

Is ethanol the solution to our oil dependency woes? The Bush administation seems to think so, but Consumer Reports isn’t so sure. In a recent article on flex-fuel vehicles that run on E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline), CR reported that the fuel economy of their test vehicle (a flex-fuel Chevy Tahoe) dropped by 27%, from a paltry 14 mpg to an even worse 10 mpg, when running on E85 as compared to gas.

When the study was conducted back in August, gas was going for $2.91/gallon. So… After adjusting for the difference in fuel economy, you would’ve ended up paying the equivalent of $3.99/gallon for E85. And that’s only if you can find it… While E85 is common in corn country (the Upper Midwest) it’s a lot harder to find elsewhere. On the upside, there was no change in vehicle performance when running on E85, and E85 burns much cleaner than straight gas, so it produces many fewer smog-causing pollutants.

Perhaps the biggest problem right now is that the production of flex-fuel vehicles is setting the stage for a net increase of gasoline consumption. The reason for this is that automakers get fuel-economy credits for every flex-fuel vehicle that they build. Thus, even if these vehicles never run on E85, the automakers get to pump out even more gas-guzzling SUVs just for having produced them. How’s that for reducing our dependency on foreign oil?

8 Responses to “Is Ethanol the Answer?”

  1. Anonymous

    I think ethanol is a step in the right direction but I do not think it is the answer. It might end up being a mixture of battery operated, ethanol and maybe solar power.

  2. Anonymous

    Ethanol is a government subsidy to the Archer Daniels Midland corporation, not an energy policy. (Which is also why fuel ethanol will never, in the United States, be made from anything more efficient than corn.)

    Producing and distributing fuel-grade ethanol consumes more petroleum than it saves. The more ethanol we use, the more dependent we are on imported oil to make fertilizer and to process corn into alcohol. The amount of oil used to produce enough ethanol to replace a gallon of gasoline is greater than the amount of oil used to produce the gasoline itself.

    When plug-in hybrids make economic sense (I’m guessing 5-7 years after the first one comes on the market) I might buy one. Preferably in a diesel. But an all-electric vehicle will never have the effective range to be worth the price of a seperate car, and hybrids of today just don’t make sense, unless one attaches an extraordinarily high value to the ability to self-righteously look down one’s nose at other people.

  3. Anonymous

    Biodiesel also beats ethanol when it comes to preserving the environment. Burns cleaner.

    I suppose the ultimate sustainable vehicle would be a biodiesel plug-in hybrid. It would be cheap to drive and could cover cross-country distances if necessary.

  4. Anonymous

    Electric cars are the future.

    The problem with fluid-based fuels (including ethanol) is that they must be refined, transported, and stored. That’s a huge waste of energy. Worse, the process of internal combustion is (much) less efficient than an electric motor. That’s more energy down the drain. Before you’ve even pressed the gas pedal, you’ve already pumped tons of carbon dioxide into the air… double or triple that during your daily commute. Fun.

    Electric beats ethanol, big time.

  5. Anonymous

    Opps…. I noticed a mistake in my post above. I meant the driver could go thousands of miles without having to FILL UP his or her hybrid. Of course they would have to plug it in order else they aren’t recieving the full benefits of the vehicles.

  6. Anonymous

    Ethanol is a good start, but there is still some debate as to whether the production of ethanol saves gasoline (because gasoline is used to produce, refine, and ship it). I believe that in the near future ethanol will be made from something more beneficial than corn. Brazil uses sugarcane, and Honda has discovered a very effiecent way to produce ethanol from discarded plant material.

    I think the next big thing in alternative energy for cars is plug-in hybrid vehicles. That is if the price of the plug-in hybrids is reasonable. A driver of a plug-in hybrid vehicle could go thousands of miles without having to plug in his or her hybrid. And that’s with no reduction in performance, power, and cargo capacity.

  7. Anonymous

    I purchased a 2003 Explorer this summer and it is a flex-fuel vehicle, and with ethanol plants poping up all round me. 1 more opens in December and 2 are in the planning stages. I started running E-85 in the explorer to find my Fuel mileage. It was about 13.5 MPG on E-85. Then I started to run regular unlead or E-10 and my fuel mileage was and has been 17.2 to 17.6. Just over 20% decrease with E-85. I now compare the prices and if E-85 is 20% cheaper I will fill up with it. In august the E-85 price was close to that 20% less. I have noticed that the engine was tuned to run or 87-89 octane fuels and not the 100+ E-85. The cruise control could not get efficent shift points on E-85 as well. I hope that as E-85 gets more popular the manufacturers will tune the engines to run on it, I suspect I could pick up a couple miles per gallon if that was the case.

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