Simanaitis Says

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ETHANOL IN gasoline is making the news—again. Because of the garbage I’ve read and heard recently, it’s time to share information on the matter.

Ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol, is potable. Methanol, aka methyl alcohol or wood alcohol, is not. As their alternative names suggest, ethanol comes from grain—such as corn. Methanol could come from wood or coal, though today it’s a byproduct of natural gas production.

Either alcohol is combustible and thus could be a motor fuel. To wit, from the mid-1960s methanol was the required fuel at the Indy 500. It remained so until organizers saw the corn-fed light and converted completely to ethanol in 2007.

Actually, what’s used at Indy is E98, 98-percent ethanol and 2-percent gasoline. One reason for the gasoline dose is to render the stuff unfit for beverage production; another is to aid the fuel’s cold-start behavior. Straight E100 doesn’t like to vaporize at temperatures much below 52 degrees Fahrenheit.

For road-going cars, methanol was the alternative fuel du jour back in the 1990s. Remember M85, the blend of 85-percent methanol and 15-percent gasoline? Neither do most people. M85 cars required special hardware for their fuel systems. And an M85 infrastructure never really developed.

However, those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it.

And so it is today with E85, motor fuel blended of 85-percent ethanol and 15-percent gasoline. At government urging, corn growers diverted their crop to ethanol production and automakers devised Flex-fuel vehicles capable of using E85, gasoline or anything in between.

However, even in the Midwest where the fuel is not uncommon, E85 hasn’t taken off. And ethanol producers have been left with a glut of the stuff.

In the meantime, we all got used to gasoline actually being E10. Formally, it can contain no more than 10-percent ethanol as an extender and octane enhancer.

Thus, reasoned the ethanol producers, to get rid of this glut, why not raise the E10 ceiling to E15? And the federal government, through the Environmental Protection Agency, said, “Why not indeed.”

Initially, EPA recommendations were that any car built after 2001 would have no problem with E15. However, automakers—the ones with the warranty liability—looked into the matter and saw problems with giving gasoline this added 50 percent of ethanol

Five automakers—BMW, Chrysler, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen—said they’d not honor warranty claims related to E15 use. A larger group—GM, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo—warned that E15 use might void the warranty of any but Flex-fuel cars.

AAA came out with a similar statement. It warned that 95 percent of consumers surveyed hadn’t even heard of E15. Also, by its estimate, less than 5 percent of cars on the road have automaker approval for E15 use.

Yet, of course, the Renewable Fuels Association—the ethanol lobby—says no problem, bring it on.

There’s an easy solution, suggested by the methanol madness of the 1990s: Just don’t buy E15, even if your car is approved for its use. What passes for gasoline (i.e., E10) will have to be offered for a wide variety of vehicles.

An easy solution to this madness: Choose a yellow button.

An easy solution to this madness: Choose a yellow button.

And pass the word to let others know of this madness. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2013

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This entry was posted on January 5, 2013 by in Driving it Today and tagged , , , .
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