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Old 12-09-2008, 05:27 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Ethanol in gasoline

Since the topic came up in the Introductions area of the page, I've been looking up where all this came from.

Anyone have any links to studies that say Ethanol use in gasoline in it's current (and future increased) proportions does anything useful beyond helping out Ethanol producers?

Does it increase energy density of gas making it more efficient?
Does it make it burn significantly cleaner?
Do its benefits significantly outweigh its detriments?
Is its transportation to non-ethanol producing areas just wasting more fuel?

On the topic I found this from April 2002. Hmm... the arguments sound familiar...

A lot of what I can find is just a couple articles similar to "bipartisan support for ethanol mandate increase" to mountains of articles and blog entries that decry such actions. This may sound snarky and "slightly" biased, but I really do want to know if this is intelligent in any way, shape, or form.

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Old 12-09-2008, 05:56 PM   #2 (permalink)
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I think all it does is drops our FE so the oil companies can sell us more gas.
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Old 12-09-2008, 06:48 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Off the top of my head

Ethanol is supposed to replace MTBE which in turn was supposed to replace TEL (lead).

When we stopped using lead, there was a measurable impact on air quality - it didn't take long before lead concentration in the air went away. Regions that still use leaded fuel (at least this was still going on 5 years ago) have much more lead in their surrounding air environment.

MTBE has been more recently in the news due to the thousands of water contamination sites found. Officially, the low levels won't cause harm... But, anyone that's ever drank water contaminated with MTBE knows - it tastes like freaking crap. Humans are sensitive to it, so it doesn't take much to ruin water. As far as I know, charcoal filters don't remove the taste (I have never been in a position to test for myself, however).

Ethanol is supposed to replace MTBE

So what did it (MTBE) do in the first place? Well, it's considered an oxygenate which is supposed to help reduce emissions. It also served as an anti knocking agent. This was when it was introduced back in the early 80's (If I recall correctly).

The question is.... Does a modern engine require these oxygenates? Does the advancements in engine combustion still necessitate anti knock chemicals? Does ethanol actually do any of the things MTBE does (I think yes, but how effective)?

Interpret at will....


Quote:
"Frankly, I believe that it is egregious to require this nation to use more ethanol than we need in our fuel supply. This is terrible public policy. It amounts to a wealth transfer of billions of dollars from every state in the nation to a handful of ethanol producers. I believe this mandate amounts to a new gas tax."
While I'm not entirely disagreeing with the sentiment.... How is that versus the ~700 billion we (US) spend on oil imports?
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Old 12-09-2008, 07:34 PM   #4 (permalink)
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I do not believe that MTBE and Ethanol are significant octane-raisers, particularly not in the relatively small amounts that are used in most gasoline. Tetra-ethyl lead very much is, however.

MTBE was added as an "oxygenate", as is Ethanol. Ethanol, at least, has less energy content than gasoline does, which isn't so good for fuel economy. They are supposed to help the fuel burn more thoroughly/more cleanly, in particular in older vehicles without closed-loop (O2 sensor equipped) fuel delivery systems. From anecdotal evidence, what they actually do is drop the fuel economy of the more modern cars by anywhere from 2% (AAA figure) to 10% (some Hypermiler figures).

It is likely that a car that was specifically designed to run on E85 or "pure" Ethanol (you can't get completely pure as it will suck water out of the air!) can be more efficient in at least one way than a gasoline motor, because Ethanol has a higher knock resistance than gasoline. So the engine could be built with more thermal efficiency (higher compression ratio, or a tiny engine with a good-sized turbo, or what have you). That may very well be enough to overcome its lower energy content, but I'm not sure.

I am of the opinion that its main purpose as a gasoline additive (in small amounts) is to transfer $$ from our pockets to those of the Ethanol producers.

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Old 12-09-2008, 07:36 PM   #5 (permalink)
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I did look up some information on the ethanol plant closest to me.

I am in the Midwest, and we are pretty much the hub of ethanol production in the United States.

My understanding is that ethanol is supposed to replace MTBE. I have heard that areas where ethanol was introduced DO have cleaner air.

I just started reading ALCOHOL CAN BE A GAS by David Blume. There's lots of interesting information in there about alcohol, E10, and E85.

As it is right now. I think E10 really is just a way of shifting money around to ethanol producers. E85 or straight ethanol both look like like promising alternative fuels.

My local ethanol plant uses an auction method of obtaining whatever bio-materials are available to them. Whatever is cheapest and most abundant is what they use. They also produce co2 for the beverage industry, and the leftover bio-material becomes animal food.

E85 was sort of a compromise between government and the automobile industry. It makes it possible to have an engine that can run on gasoline or a mix of gasoline and alcohol. By still having 15% gasoline in there, the alcohol doesn't suffer from winter cold start problems. In fact, the winter blend of E-85 is actually 30% gasoline! So, really, we should call it E-70 right now.

The problem with running Ethanol in a gasoline engine isn't the ethanol, it's just that you are using the wrong fuel. Potentially, an engine DESIGNED to run on alcohol could have much HIGHER fuel economy.


PS: My very first car got 47 mpg without trying. When E-10 came out, the economy dropped to 30 mpg, and it eventually went back up to 35 mpg in the long run. Not sure how that was supposed to help the enviroment when I had to use that much more gas!
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Old 12-09-2008, 07:57 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Here's a recent study done by the Swiss. It extremely long but it covers the total impact of bio-fuels. You can find reasons for and against ethanol which tells me it is no silver bullet and that it should not be a mainstay as an alternate fuel as the lobbist would have you believe, but just one of many tools in the shed.
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Old 12-10-2008, 12:12 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Quote:
E85 or "pure" Ethanol (you can't get completely pure as it will suck water out of the air!)
Then how is that guy producing E100 and burning it for energy?

Ethanol is just Ethyl Alcohol, or more commonly referred to as "Moonshine"

One of the classes in my school (BSAA) is making E100, and I think they might Denature it for the use as a fuel (and so you can't really drink it...) But I'm pretty sure E85 isn't Pure ethanol, as its 15 percent gasoline, and E100 is used as fuel today. just not good in engines not built for it.
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Old 12-10-2008, 12:46 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lazarus View Post
You can find reasons for and against ethanol which tells me it is no silver bullet....
Aye

There is no silver bullet. Diversify, Diversify, Diversify
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Old 12-10-2008, 10:25 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Pretty much every study I've looked at that says "ethanol is better" is using an engine designed to run on it. That's awesome that they can get better milage, but there's still 200,000,000 vehicles on the road right now using a fuel they weren't designed for that are getting worse milage.

If the gov. wants to dump more ethanol on us, they should help pay the cost of altering our vehicles to run better on it. They're subsidizing the move to digital broadcast television, why not subsidize something that matters?
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Old 12-10-2008, 11:05 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Quote:
They're subsidizing the move to digital broadcast television
They're doing it to free up airwaves because the airwaves are so cluttered the government is having trouble with their communication from all the different frequencies being used. Helps them I suppose. And switching tv's is probably millions of dollars cheaper than altering car engines.

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