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The EPA claims that automakers are lying, and that E15 is perfectly safe for engines.  (Source: Hemmings Blog)

The EPA is trying to sneak E15 -- a blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gas -- into the pump.  (Source: MPR News)

Corn ethanol gives worse gas mileage and, according to some studies, more air pollution than gasoline. It also raises food prices.  (Source: Dave Reede)
EPA: What could go wrong?

United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials, testifying to Congress on Wednesday implied that automakers like Ford Motor Company (F) and Toyota Motor Company (TYO:7203) were lying when they said higher ethanol blends could corrode seals, fuel lines, and engine components, voiding warranties.

I. EPA -- We Know Better About These Cars Than the People Who Built Them

The EPA is convinced that it knows about the risks better than the automakers who built and tested the cars.

At issue is the question of whether the EPA can authorize E15 fuel -- a 15 percent ethanol, 85 percent gasoline -- mix to be sold at pumps, with special stickers to warn customers.  E10 fuel, which contains a smaller 10 percent fraction of ethanol, is currently mandated by many states.  Approving E15 would clear the way for states to possibly mandate it as the exclusive fuel.

Margo Oge, director of the agency's Office of Transportation and Air Quality office, claims that her researchers conducted "extensive" tests using E15, which showed, "no unusual damage was found compared to control vehicles tested with normal gasoline."

Thus far General Motors Comp. (GM), who produces E85 (85 percent ethanol) capable FlexFuel vehicles, has been the only automaker to voice enthusiasm about the proposal.  The rest of the major U.S. and foreign automakers have complained that E15 could destroy engines in cars produced in 2001 or later.

Essentially, both sides are calling the others a liar in the dispute.

II. Ethanol Opposition is Solidifying

There are signs that opposition to the proposal is mounting in Congress.  Rep. Andy Harris (R-Maryland) blasted the measure, stating it wasn't a "science-based decision".

Overall, while green technologies like cellulosic ethanol seem promising, the case for the U.S.'s current ethanol supply -- corn ethanol -- isn't particularly compelling.  Corn ethanol has been shown to raise food prices and delivers worse gas mileage (ethanol exclusive engines can deliver better mileage, but mixed engines deliver worse performance when burning ethanol).  

Some studies have also shown that it produces more polluting gases, such as nitrogen and sulfur-containing compounds, than gasoline over its life cycle, thus deteriorating air quality.  Similarly, it produces more carbon emissions than gasoline.

Still, farming states have managed to push corn ethanol onto the nation.  The move paid off for a lucky few -- corn farmers grew wealthy the recipient of billions of dollars in subsidies and the politicians they donated to were reelected. 

However, the good times for corn ethanol proponents appear to be coming to an end in the U.S.  Just weeks ago the U.S. Congress repealed the $5.6B USD in incentives for corn ethanol.

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RE: die corn ethanol diiieeee!!!!!!
By protosv on 7/8/2011 3:00:58 PM , Rating: 2
Ethanol may be a superior racing fuel, but it is only superior for use with engines designed for racing. Our vehicles are largely designed to achieve the highest power and fuel economy from gasoline, not ethanol.

Also, we're not impeding your choice to purchase and use ethanol. In fact, more correctly, it is YOU (well, at least this government policy, which I'm assuming you support) who is impeding US from choosing to use pure gasoline in our motor vehicles. By mandating that 10% ethanol be mixed with gasoline, the government effectively forces this on all of us. And now the EPA wishes to further encroach upon the auto industry (which we already were forced to bail out) by proposing a 15% fuel-ethanol blend.

At the same time, they're removing ethanol subsidies, which drive up the price of ethanol. So, we are forced to use more of a less efficient fuel, which will cost us more to purchase per unit, effectively driving up gasoline prices. The subsidy to corn farmers for ethanol hasn't actually disappeared, we're just going to be paying for it directly at the pump now instead of with our taxes (which won't decrease in proportion I'm sure). It won't ever go away until we get rid of this silly ethanol mandate until such a time that biofuel manufacturing technology has advanced to the point where we can yield a net energy GAIN on the fuel produced (algae-based biodiesel is on it's way, IMO). Personally, I don't think ethanol will ever make to that point as a fuel.

I'm not saying we shouldn't be pushing the auto industry towards higher fuel economy, but we can't simultaneously demand higher MPG while mandating use of less efficient fuel. Instead, just mandate a higher fuel economy and emission standards by a certain point in the future, and let the auto industry figure out how to meet that goal, using whatever means they deem most efficient. The free market isn't the answer to everything, but in this case, there's enough government regulation already to push innovation and progress. You gotta give the free market at least a little room to operate here.

RE: die corn ethanol diiieeee!!!!!!
By inperfectdarkness on 7/8/2011 4:32:01 PM , Rating: 1
you're touching on the crux of the problem; namely that e85 hasn't seen widespread adoption, due to lack of availability at gas stations--as well as a lack of vehicles that can utilize it (other than GM's offerings).

why e15 makes sense is that making it a unilateral change for all pumps means that all manufacturers have to climb on-board in supporting it as a fuel source. this means that there manufacture of cars incompatible with ethanol-blend fuels will eventually cease.

better still, this means that octane ratings will begin to creep upward. and, since e15 is the new minimum, eventually manufacturers can begin to capitalize on this newer, higher-octane fuel by making cars tailored to using it.

i'm not a fan of "across the board" mpg ratings. i'd much rather our MPG be tied to power-output. a vehicle rated for 400hp should be held to different MPG standards than one making 200hp. and why not? a higher hp vehicle will naturally consume more fuel. it's not fair to expect a c6 corvette to get 50mpg.

a 1.5L I-4 running on e85 at a 15:1 compression ratio makes roughly equivalent power to a 2.0L I-4 (same engine design) on 9:1 compression. MPG ratings between the two would be virtually identical. this is not a "race-car only" fuel. e85 can easily be adopted to all consumer cars, if it becomes an adopted standard octane. similarly, if 93 octane was never made a standard, most high-performance cars would never have been able to utilize it to achieve their impressive performance numbers. this goes double for turbocharged cars.

what the DT pundits often seem to forget is that increased compression = better burn characteristics, yielding more power. yes, on paper, a gallon of pure 93 octane gasoline has more BTU's than a gallon of e85. the reality though, is that e85 has a significantly higher octane rating; so its combustion yields a higher net energy than 93 octane in an internal combustion engine.

no one wanted unleaded gas either; but it wasn't that hard to adapt to. i know. i remember the switch over. until and unless we have the capacity to put e85 in every pump across the country, we should stick to gradually upping the ethanol percentages every 5-10 years. this will ensure that all ethanol we do produce is utilized; that we don't create excessive demand on the market (or drive up the cost of foods), and that manufacturers can begin to produce engines that capitalize on the inherent combustion benefits of ethanol.

RE: die corn ethanol diiieeee!!!!!!
By Alexvrb on 7/9/2011 12:09:12 AM , Rating: 2
You assume that Octane ratings will go up, because ethanol has a higher octane rating. But you're making a bad assumption. Octane ratings between regular gasoline and E10 didn't change. 87 is still 87, 93 is still 93, etc. Do you know WHY? Because when they blend the fuel, they take the ethanol content into account! So if they change to E15, they'll just use even lower octane gasoline, blended with more ethanol to bring the octane rating back to where it is today. In other words, no positive change for E15 over E10, and lots of drawbacks.

As far as E85 and higher compression ratios, that's all well and good. Except that if you FULLY optimize an engine for E85, you lose the capability to run E10/E15 of any octane. Even then, you STILL don't get as much energy out of a gallon of E85, especially in your comparison to 93 octane. Not unless you continue to use poor compression ratios (9:1? Really? An old cast iron pushrod motor could do that easily, let alone a modern engine) when comparing 93 octane to E85.

By inperfectdarkness on 7/9/2011 8:23:40 AM , Rating: 2
and if ethanol ratings don't go up with e15, then gas prices should plummet even further; because now they can include even crummier octane into the mix--and crummy octane (or rather heptane) is cheaper than good octane.

and let's be honest, 9:1 isn't 93-only. it's generally used for 87 octane cars. i just picked 9:1 as an example, because the vast majority of (naturally aspirated) gasoline engines currently in use are 9:1 compression.

By FITCamaro on 7/9/2011 11:54:33 AM , Rating: 1
The only cars that use 9:1 compression ratios these days are those that are supercharged or turbocharged. Any other engine these days is at least 10:1 if not higher. Engines like the LS7 are 12:1. My LS2 is 10.9:1. Even smaller 4 cylinder engines are around that compression.

Cars haven't been at 9:1 compression ratios since the 80s and early 90s.

RE: die corn ethanol diiieeee!!!!!!
By TimboG on 7/10/2011 11:48:42 AM , Rating: 2
So far all you guys that love ethanol keep saying are positive or equivalent numbers in horsepower in your comparisons.
The real problem with ethanol is in its inability to produce equivalent torque.

It takes BTU to produce torque which ethanol severely lacks.
If you have a problem understanding this then tell me ONE example of a vehicle that gets 40 MPG while running in the rpm range of its horsepower output.

The truth is that in order to raise MPG the engine has to operate at the lowest possible RPM at all given MPH. This requires producing enough torque to propel the vehicle at highway speeds all while running at the lowest possible RPM.

Yep, I’ll agree with the “racing fuel” comparison. Let’s see, a racing engine uses 8 times the normal fuel consumption and is ALWAYS running at an RPM that is within that engines horsepower range.
See any racing engines running 1800 RPM while going down the back straight?

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