• Feb 23, 2006
Well, not exactly, but President Bush's current fascination with E85 fuel aside, problems with widespread adoption of high ethanol content fuels go far beyond the lack of special pumps at your corner gas station-- the U.S. has an E85 shortage, and we're importing ethanol from Brazil to make up the shortfall.
The reason? Too much demand, and not enough supply, a conondrum that leads to shortages and high prices.

Oil companies that still use MTBE (Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether to you chemists) to oxygenate gasoline are rapidly shifting to using ethanol instead, to avoid the public health hazard created by the additive (and the attendant lawsuits). While much of the U.S. already uses E10 blended gasoline, the East Coast and Texas region still depend on MTBE-blended fuel.

Unfortunately, U.S. ethanol production is running at capacity, and there isn't enough U.S. ethanol to replace all that MTBE. U.S. capacity will increase as new facilities eventually come on line, but that isn't solving this year's problem.

Already, ethanol prices have been driven high enough that E85 is selling for as much or more than gasoline, even though its energy content is lower (leading to comparatively lower fuel efficiency). Things will get worse before they get better, with CNN/Money reporting that the ethanol shortage will affect regions depending on it to replace MTBE... leading to high prices and possible fuel shortages on the East Coast and in Texas.


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  • 32 Comments
      • 8 Years Ago
      well what reason will they have now also when back in the 70's no one had reason to RIP the people off why can't everyone BOYCOTT all but one oil company for one week but no one will thank you
      • 8 Years Ago
      a coment to those who would like to ignore the energy used to produce ethanol-

      this energy is fossil fuel and not able to be reporduced
      natural gas and electricity made from a variety of sources most not renewable are the source of energy to make ethanol. nataural gas demand has caused the price of home heating to rise to very high levels. all the increase is NOT due solely to the use by ethanol production.

      if ethanol is so good, why not use it farm equipment or dry grain on the farm?

      cost per gallon of gas vs ethanol are only made by cost per mile to use of each. because ethanol is cheaper per gallon than gas but gets less miles per gallon may not make it a better purchase
      • 8 Years Ago
      unless the us gets back into building neuclear plants the production of ethanol is not efficient. what burn oil to make ethanol? no. why burn coal if emmisions are a concern. ethanol is a net energy loss fuel unless neuclear is used.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Andrew,

      I believe what you say is true. It burns at least as efficiently as gas, but you have to burn more of it, because there is less caloric value per given volume. One would get worse mileage, as such, unless they found a way to improve efficiency using, for example, higher octane.

      Fossil fuel might cost a little less, until you add in the occasional lost World Trade Center and the cost of fighting a war in Iraq.
      • 8 Years Ago
      C'mon Stuart, how about taking 3 deep breaths before hitting SEND?

      Why the implication that importation of ethanol from foreign countries is such a bad thing? The problems with foreign oil dependence are tied to the percentage imported and the number of unstable and/or unfriendly countries from whom we do the importing.

      Why the continual regurgitation of the bits about lower energy content from E85 while ignoring both the higher octane and the fact that the net result is less gasoline burned? Don't you think maybe we car people might appreciate a story on whether or not there is a PERFORMANCE benefit to E85 (see Saab's 310 hp 4-cyl for instance!).

      Why the implication of blame on the ethanol producers for the SUDDEN elimination of MTBE? The legal depts of the big oil companies tell them to get the hell out of the MTBE business since their lackeys in Congress and White House won't give them a liability protection they sought...and its whose fault for disrupting supply lines?
      • 8 Years Ago
      oops, 20-35% worse. NOT 2035% worse.
      • 8 Years Ago
      One big difference between an ethanol shortage and a gas shortage - the US can plant more crops to turn into ethanol. It can't make more oil appear underground. The whole point of this exercise is that ethanol is renewable and we can make it. If we waited for the supply to be there before ramping the demand, nothign would ever happen.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Ethanol does not get "worse mileage". It's misleading to state it as such without qualifying the statement. It's simply got a lower caloric value. You have to burn more to release the needed energy. It's not like it's a bad or defective fuel. It's just that the bonds between atoms don't store quite as much energy as fossil fuel.

      While that burning is taking place, the generation of pollution is generally slighly less. Meanwhile, the octane rating is higher, meaning you can run a higher compression and enjoy a more sporty engine.

      All around, the difference is barely worth mentioning. So you need a 12 gallon tank instead of a 10 gallon tank. Is that really that bad? A gallon weights about 5 lbs. An extra 10 lbs with a full tank.

      I never thought about it before, but maybe you could make more efficient engines with higher compression. You certainly have a more dramatic combustion event, which should result in a more complete burn, no?

      The detractors to ethanol are barely detractors. Like I've said before, if we had a choice to pick, as a society, and we weren't dependent on the oil infrastructure, we'd pick ethanol in a heartbeat!
      • 8 Years Ago
      Maybe Brazil's Petrobas Oil buying into that TX refinery was their foot into the door for exports of their excess ethanol to the USA...don't blame Brazil for our own govenment's lack of initiative on ethanol because weren't we warned about this by dear old Jimmy Carter many moons ago...
      http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2006/02/04/business/news/19_56_162_3_06.txt
      http://www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/31249/story.htm
      • 8 Years Ago
      Paul you really are sort of anal, and hey at least my butt would have a half life for a thousand years or so.
      • 8 Years Ago
      The octane rating of a fuel means next to nothing when talking about power output and engine design. There is deminishing energy returns for any engine over 11:1 compression ratio because of the pumping losses. Ethanol will just shorten the already short lifespan of the gasoline fueled engine.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Just a comment on MTBE. Although I'm not sure of the exact dates the history of MTBE as an additve in gasoline came about as a cheaper alternative to lead, as an octane booster. Ethyl Corporation in Great Britan first introduced MTBE in the late 80's at a cost 1/3 that of lead. Did the oil companies pass on the savings? Of course not, but it gets worse. MTBE is the primary cause of Oxygen(O2)sensor failure. All new cars have them, and some in mutiples of 2, and 4. The O2 sensor tells your car's computer how much fuel is needed to meet emission specs. As the sensor begins to foul the computer calls for more fuel and the result is a mileage per gallon decrease and an emmisions level increase. It also causes more unburned fuel deposits to be left in your catalytic converter. Honda Motor Company did a study comparing O2 sensor warranty claims between cars in the north eastern U.S. and eastern Canada and found that the U.S. cars claims rate was half that of Canadian cars. The reason? MTBE is used in Canada but not at that time, in the U.S. The Canadian government tried to ban the importation of MTBE under the NAFTA, however Ethyl Corp. threatened legal action and the federal lawyers turtled and had to pay about 8 million in damages. What I find most annoying is the fact that Canada is energy self-sufficient and yet continues to buy oil from OPEC (oil producing embezzelers and cockroaches) Reason? GREED!!! There is no oil crisis now like there was no crisis in 1973. We are held hostage by big oil corps. and middle eastern terrorist dictators who pay speculators( futures traders) big money to manipulate the market through fearmongering.
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