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The Evils of Ethanol

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On: Fri, Feb 25, 2011 at 11:45AM | By: Chuck Arehart

The Evils of Ethanol

Gasoline blended with 10-percent corn-based ethanol has been around for decades. I remember it as "gasahol" in the seventies and its intent was to stifle the effect of our nation's first oil "crisis" by easing the burden at the pump a few cents per gallon. Fast forward to circa 2005 when the green movement was building steam, global warming transitioned from theory to belief and automakers (mainly domestic) were touting their new flex-fuel vehicles that could run on E85 (gasoline with 85 percent ethanol). There are several reasons for the sudden interest in E85. Gas prices were nearing the three-dollar per-gallon mark and E85 was cheaper, if you could find it. E85's lower emissions would help combat global warming and the stigma that went along with a fuel-sucking, environment polluting SUV.

Ethanol in the U.S. is derived from corn, something we know how to grow acres of, therefore reducing our dependence on foreign oil. However, while manufacturers were utilizing the strategy of combating the green, anti-truck and SUV movement with trucks and SUVs that ran on a clean-burning fuel, those manufacturers didn't want you to know that you burned more of it. Lots more; your fuel mileage would (no pun intended) tank, and the lower cost wasn't enough to make up the difference. At that time, I was working at one of GM's many ad agencies and assigned to a project creating vehicle specifications sales sheets. We included fuel mileage ratings for vehicles if you ran it on E85 or pure gasoline. The ratings for E85 were very poor and we were told to delete them.

Another personal experience that proves the point is the case of the 2009 Chevy HHR Flex Fuel. I sampled one for review and noticed it was delivering only 20-22 mpg, indicated by the trip computer in combined city/highway driving. When the tank ran low, I filled up with fuel I knew was pure gasoline and the mileage increased instantly, reaching about 28 mpg, which was the norm for that car. I contacted the company that ran the GM fleet and they said they were instructed to use E85 fuel in E85 vehicles when delivered to the press.

Even E10 gasoline with 10 percent ethanol will result in lower fuel mileage, especially in cold weather. Yet some states don't require gas stations to label their pumps to indicate the use of ethanol, so you may not know what you're putting in your fuel tank. Consumer labeling laws allow us to know the fabric content of our clothes and nutrition in our food, so why can't we always know if our fuel is blended with ethanol? Any gasoline-powered vehicle on the road today will run on E10, but the federal government now wants to up the ethanol blend to 15 percent for use in vehicles that are model year 2007 or later. This is a case of the government forcing consumers to use what they think is best for them when it isn't necessarily so.

The auto industry is fighting the new requirement because the engines and fuel systems were designed to run on a maximum ethanol blend of 10 percent. They don't know what ill effects there may be on vehicle components or fuel mileage. And do you really want to pay the same amount to fill your tank, but not be able to go as far on it? The proposed requirement would further complicate gas station inventories because station owners who want to sell an ethanol blend would still have to have E10 on hand for pre-2007 model year vehicles, and there are plenty of them out on the roads.

We consumers are a fickle bunch. We may purchase something that has a benefit we can't see, touch, or feel. Yet, when it comes to filling the tank on our daily driver, the regulators in D.C. think that we'll gladly pay more to get less out of a tank when the benefit we can't see, touch, or feel is marginally cleaner air. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for clean air. I just think there are other ways to do it in the automotive sense instead of forcing me to burn a fuel that lightens my wallet quicker. I don't need the government to help me throw money away; I'm pretty good at doing that myself.


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