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Reduced corn production makes increased ethanol content in fuel worrisome

A new report has been published that looks at the tense negotiations between the White House and automakers over CAFE standards that would push fuel efficiency to 54.5 mpg by 2025. According to the report put together by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the Obama administration "openly played automakers off of each other to gain a tactical advantage over the industry." 
"The inevitable product of this reckless process was a pair of rulemakings that reflect ideology over science and politics over process. … Americans will be forced to drive expensive, unpopular and unsafe automobiles mandated by the Obama administration," stated the report.
However, representative Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), rejected the report stating, "Any allegations that the White House is seeking to weaken the auto industry are simply ridiculous — this is the White House that saved the auto industry from its near-collapse."

"Japan is angry. Feel like they have been screwed." -- Toyota
The report also features notes from auto manufacturers involved in the negotiation process with Washington. The notes show that foreign automakers particularly were unhappy with the process and felt that the rules were jilted in favor of Detroit automakers. Despite misgivings, most foreign automakers agreed to the deal. Handwritten notes in the report from Toyota stated, "Japan is angry. Feel like they have been screwed."
Automakers maintain that the new requirements would add about $2,000 to the cost of the average vehicle by 2025 or roughly $3,000 when costs from the 2012 to 2013 fuel efficiency rules are figured in. Automakers felt pressure to agree to the Obama administration's fuel economy standards over fears that California would enact even stiffer efficiency ratings if they turned Washington down.
While fuel-efficiency standards are set to increase in the coming years, the White House is working hard to get more ethanol into the nation's fuel supply to help reduce the need for foreign oil. However, the U.S. is currently in the middle of a corn shortage. Ethanol in the U.S. is primarily produced using corn. Corn production in the U.S. has fallen drastically due to drought, and livestock producers fear that increasing the ethanol content in gasoline will result in even less corn being available feed, therefore, raising prices of feed and food supplies.

Severe drought conditions have obliterated this year's corn crop [Image Source: MSNBC]
The Detroit News reports that over 180 members of Congress are calling on the Obama administration to waive increased ethanol requirements in fuel. White House spokesman Jay Carney said, "The EPA has made clear that they're working closely with the Department of Agriculture to keep an eye on yields, and they will evaluate all the relevant information when assessing that situation."
EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson said, "We are in close contact with USDA as they and we keep an eye on crop yield estimates, and we will review any data or information submitted by stakeholders, industry and states relating to the RFS program."

Sources: The Detroit News [1], [2]

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RE: And this - ?
By Masospaghetti on 8/13/2012 10:50:18 AM , Rating: -1
While I agree that consumers shouldn't have ethanol mandated (shoved) down our collective throats, your logic is wrong.

Ethanol is not an inert filler. It has about 75% of the energy of pure gasoline, by volume - thus E10 reduces fuel economy by about 2.5%. So you reduce gasoline consumption by 7.5% using E10.

For those who say that "its not that simple" - prove it to me. Anecdotal evidence is not proof.

RE: And this - ?
By geddarkstorm on 8/13/2012 12:51:59 PM , Rating: 3
I think you missed the point. So they are forcing automakers to increase fuel economy (miles per gallon, not miles per percent gasoline), while at the same time making them use E10 which reduces their fuel economy by 2.5% at the lowest (ideal case is basically never the real world case, so your estimate is too low). Automakers will have to aim for an even higher target to compensate for the range of mileage loss from ethanol; and that's no easy engineering feat, which increases costs even more. It's a catch 22.

RE: And this - ?
By PaFromFL on 8/13/2012 1:45:02 PM , Rating: 3
No, Masospaghetti is wrong about ethanol reducing gasoline consumption. Based on long trips on I-95 back in 2008, I discovered that E-10 reduced my gas mileage around 7% to 10% with the four cars I tested. This is much worse than the expected the energy density loss.

When you factor in the oil consumed producing and transporting ethanol, it actually increases net oil consumption. Ethanol's only benefit is lining the pockets of the corn industry and the crooked politicians that support it. By now they know full well the damage to society they're causing and deserve a few years of vacation in Guantanamo.

RE: And this - ?
By Masospaghetti on 8/13/12, Rating: 0
RE: And this - ?
By wookie1 on 8/13/2012 4:20:50 PM , Rating: 2
The energy content of ethanol is something like 30% lower than gasoline. That's a pretty reasonable explanation, I think. You need to burn more of it to get the same amount of energy out. I agree though that driver variation, weather variation, and not averaging across multiple fill-ups can confound the data.

RE: And this - ?
By Masospaghetti on 8/14/2012 1:22:54 PM , Rating: 2
Let's go with 30%.

So 10 "units" of ethanol would have the same energy as 7 "units" of gasoline, right?

So 90% gasoline + 10% ethanol = 97% energy content. Same as my original post, except I used 75% instead of 70%.

The OP and others claim reduction in fuel economy of 10% or greater, which makes no sense in a modern engine that has been properly maintained.

BTW, instead of rating me down, how about providing a reasonable explanation proving me wrong?

RE: And this - ?
By PaFromFL on 8/13/2012 5:15:01 PM , Rating: 1
My observational data trumps your textbook theory. I hold a Ph.D. in Physics and an MSEE, so I'm confident that my fuel economy tests were valid. Driving 900 miles back and forth on I-95 several times using cruise control is a fairly controlled experiment.

My guess is that modern engines are optimized to run on pure gasoline and lose efficiency when ethanol is added. It's probably a matter of degree. If you keep upping the percentage of ethanol in a non-FlexFuel engine, it will start to run poorly, and then not at all.

Engine controllers have enough problems keeping up with temperature, pressure, humidity, and octane variations, and then ethanol (and water and crud) are thrown into the mix.

RE: And this - ?
By Masospaghetti on 8/14/2012 1:17:35 PM , Rating: 2
Textbook theory?

Do you really believe that automakers wouldn't engineer their NEW engines to run properly on E10, when they are fully aware that is the national standard? (By "run properly", I mean lower combustion efficiency, which is what you appear to be claiming.) This would be terrible engineering design.

I'm also not sure how having a MSEE and Ph.D make your fuel economy tests any more valid. I'm a structural engineer by profession, but that doesn't make my anecdotal data any more useful.

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