• Dec 18, 2007
Taking a short break from wrangling the new HHR SS around the track at the Bondurant School for High Performance Driving (see above -- that's me), we got a chance to speak with some of the engineers behind the SS series of vehicles, among others. We took that opportunity to ask whether or not GM has considered using the alcohol-based E85 fuel as a high performance option -- as opposed to just marketing E85 as a "green" fuel. Perhaps not too surprisingly, the idea has been considered at General Motors. E85 happens to have a very high octane rating. The fuel burns at a comparatively low temperature, meaning that additional power can be extracted from a given amount as compared to gasoline. Turbocharged vehicles offer an excellent opportunity to tap into that additional available power, so the fact that it was left off the HHR SS probably means that we're not likely to see that angle of the corny-fuel any time soon.


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  • 30 Comments
      • 7 Years Ago
      Ethanol is no more carbon neutral than gasoline, they both came from plant matter. Granted in the short term, only gasoline is releasing "new" cabon into the atmosphere as far as our tiny historical perspective is conerned. The hard truth is that nothing will be a perfect replacement for gasoline. Oil is like a found penny, it's just sitting there to be taken, we didn't make it or grow it we just refine it. Unless we can do the same with sea water or dirt there is never going to be a similar energy bargin on this earth.
      • 7 Years Ago
      who cares. ethanol is a terrible "replacement" for gasoline.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Well at least ethanol is renewable, unlike purely oil based fuels.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Why?
        • 7 Years Ago
        More CO2 goes into the air in the production of the equivalent amount of ethanol compared to gasoline. In other words, ethanol is not a good replacement.
        • 7 Years Ago
        And you can't run out of ethanol- unlike oil, which they believe will be all gone by 2050, within my lifetime for sure. Even if they emit the same CO2, we won't have any gasoline or diesel to burn in 40 years.
        • 7 Years Ago
        it's only terrible for gasoline engines. An engine designed to run off E85 can run higher compressions, which means more power, a la Koenigsegg CCX.

        Flex fuel engines and dedicated ethanol engines are not the same.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Andrew is correct, plus the emissions from ethanol are worse than they are for gasoline- especially for asthma sufferers. Furthermore, the farm industry lined enough politicians pockets to get massive subsidies for corn to become the poster vegie for ethanol, when it is one of the least efficient options for ethanol production.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Andrew is correct, plus the emissions from ethanol are worse than they are for gasoline- especially for asthma sufferers. Furthermore, the farm industry lined enough politicians pockets to get massive subsidies for corn to become the poster vegie for ethanol, when it is one of the least efficient options for ethanol production.
        • 7 Years Ago
        correction: Koenigsegg CCXR
        • 7 Years Ago
        @ Car Boi

        What a terrible way to look at it. Do you know what is involved in the corn based ethanol process?

        Diminishing returns...
        • 7 Years Ago
        Corn-based ethanol is, can't really say the same thing about cellulose (I believe that's what it's called) ethanol and what they're doing down in Brazil.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Andrew, the *production* of ethanol may emit more carbon than for gasoline, but remember that combustion of ethanol is carbon-neutral, unlike gasoline.

        Honestly, I don't think we will see a transportation energy monopoly in the future as we have now. A fuel source of energy (ethanol, nat gas, etc) is great for long trips where quick refueling is necessary. OTOH, purely electric cars are great for around-town driving where range is not a big concern because of efficiency in traffic and no point-of-use pollution.
      • 7 Years Ago
      What a lot of you are missing is that you are falling for the "energy diversion".

      The argument that ethanol has less energy is a red herring, a diversion. Does it have a lower latent heat value? Yes. Does that mandate lower efficiency? No. The "energy" we measure in the fuels is determined by how much heat it absorbs during combustion. Given an open burn, ethanol will absorb more. However, the time spent in the combustion chamber is a very small fraction of the time ethanol requires to absorb it's full capacity. As a result this value "the energy content" is misleading.

      As a result, those of us who actually run E85 don't see the difference in fuel economy the energy levels "should" make. For example, my Suburban sees less than 20% difference in fuel economy unloaded, not 37% (rough energy "content" difference between E85 and G100). Clearly something is at work.

      The key difference is something called "energy quality". The quality of the energy in ethanol us higher than that of gasoline. A crude measurement of this is he octane rating of ethanol vs. gasoline. Now, technically, pure ethanol doesn't have octane because the components (pollutants) necessary aren't present, so it is a calculated value.

      However, the difference is important. You see, gasoline under load decreases efficiency dramatically. That is why an engine powered by gasoline drops economy so bad when under a load such as pulling a boat or trailer, etc.. On the other side are ethanol, diesel, and methanol. Unlike gasoline these fuels do not suffer a massive drop in efficiency, indeed they often see zero drop or an actual improvement. That is why it is not uncommon for non-flex fuel E85 or ethanol vehicles to get better MPG in various conditions such us under loads.

      It also explains why when universities and people have testes ethanol blends in small cars with small engines they see an improvement. An underpowered car is perpetually under load; increasing it's energy quality will increase it's power and thus it's economy, all else equal.

      And here is again where shortsightedness comes into play. A ethanol or E85 powered engine, designed to be used that way (such as automatically adjusted turbo pressures) can put out more power for it's size. As a result, you can use a smaller engine with the net result being a decrease in fuel consumption. Transportation efficiency comes in large measures from matching energy to work. Though that is true in nearly all energy applications.

      The fact that SAAB has built E100G100 cars that achieve nearly identical economy (and in some cases better MPG with E100 than G100) belies the false assertion that ethanol necessarily reduces fuel economy.

      Th sad truth is that so many people, especially those in the press and those who toe a political line are truly ignorant of the full situation. It is far easier, and feels good to those who need it, to sit behind their keyboard and blast away at "ethanol" or at "oil producers" than to learn the full impact of the situation.

      So we are left with people claiming energy content mandates a certain result, while real world results do not match. As Dr. Who has said "OK, so it's impossible, but there it is!". To put a final comment to the energy content claim ask yourself this:

      You are given the option of sharing one of two cash prizes. You can have 40% of $1000 or you can have 70% of 650. Which would you choose? If you go along with the "ethanol has less energy so it must be worse" argument, then you must argue that to have 40% of a 1000 bucks is better than having 70% of 650.

      Better efficiency means doing more with the same or for less. What matters is how much usable energy you get out of the fuel, not how much it contains - unless the percentages are also equal. In ethanol vs. gasoline, they are not. That ethanol burning engine is wasting less energy as heat than that hotter burning gasoline engine.

      All that said, that does not mean corn is a good means to the fuel source. It has been shown time and time again that looking at the full lifecycle, it takes less energy to put usable energy to the pump using ethanol than it does using gasoline. That is accomplished with the gasoline infrastructure having decades to achieve it's best situation, and ethanol still in it's relative infancy.

      The transition from corn to better processes is the route to go. And before any of the kneejerkers say it, I am actually against subsidies - both for ethanol and for gasoline and actually for any "alternative".

      Perfect is the enemy of good. It's the reason we still use gasoline so heavily. Perpetually in search of "the perfect solution" has prevented incrementally better solutions from being deplo
      • 7 Years Ago
      I was under the impression you need more ethanol during combustion to get the same performance as regular gasoline. I could be wrong, but if that's the case, I don't see the benefits as a "performance" fuel. Someone will enlighten me,I'm sure...
        • 7 Years Ago
        What you're saying is partially true because a gallon of ethanol has considerably less energy stored than a gallon of gasoline. But as the article says, ethanol burns cooler, which means a more efficient engine. Ethanol's higher octane rating means it can also be compressed more than gasoline, which means more power. It's only a matter of further development before ethanol is a real alternative.
      • 7 Years Ago
      GM's left hand doesn't know what it's right hand is doing.

      Exactly!
      • 7 Years Ago
      I can't claim to know a lot about the topic but what about the fact that a gallon of E85 has less energy than a gallon gasoline which in turn is less than a gallon of diesel. Audi winning the ALMS and LeMans race with diesels speaks volumes about that extra power per gallon.

      It seems that with E85 a race car is going to have to stop to refuel many more times than a diesel or gas engine. So, I can't imagine it would be good for endurance racing.
      far jr
      • 7 Years Ago
      A farmer grows corn. part of it goes to make ethanol. The byproduct of the ethanol (distillers grain) is fed to the farmers cattle. The cattle ...ehem... process the grain into manure which is stored in a pit and emits methane which the farmer uses to power an electrical generator which powers some of the farm and charges the batteries of his plug in hybrid. The manure is injected back into the soil to help grow the next crop of corn. Another part of the corn crop is converted into corn oil which is used at the local snack food manufacturer. When it is no longer useful to fry potato chips, it is sold back to the farmer who converts it into bio-fuel to operate his tractors to plant and harvest the following years crop.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The bigger effect on IC piston engines is mechanical design and friction, not as much fuel temperature.

      Fuel energy output, higher or lower propensity to burn at lower temperature or pressure (octane rating measurements) make a difference, but aren't going to be night and day.

      Less specific energy is less specific energy. It results in less combustion pressure, as well as less combustion heat. Less energy output all around. So you add more fuel.

      With ethanol, with a higher octane rating (essentially harder to ignite) it is less likely to pre-detonate. So intake charge can be higher. Turbochargers or Superchargers can be spooled higher (higher dynamic compression). In a normally aspirated engine, compression ratio can be ramped up (like diesel, higher static compression) for a bit more power.

      All you have to do is dump more fuel in. that is less fuel efficiency, not more. proportionally much more fuel for some more power. (or less power for the same amount of fuel, conversely.)

      It just happens that this fuel is grown, rather than pumped out of a hole in the ground.

      That also brings us to the inefficiencies of creating alcohol from corn, or most other grains. They are mostly starch. It is very energy intensive, and requires a great amount of clean water to create ethanol. Combine that with the energy required to farm raise the corn, at the expense of other crops, and other uses for corn. (like, say FOOD! for humans and livestock) Also the fact that ethanol is hygroscopic, and can't be easily be pipelined, and has to be trucked to keep it "dry" from water contamination.

      So, after all of that, you are using just as much fossil fuels (increased useage for tractors and trucks) and more energy input into a gallon of ethanol than you get as output from that gallon of ethanol. And an increase in costs over pumping, refining, and transporting petrochemicals, offset by the government subsidies for the ethanol. Which you incidently pay in taxes. (Government has never earned a dime, it only costs people their money through taxes.) Did I mention the increased yield demand for corn creating increased useage of nitrate and other fertilizers, most of which end up in the ground and ground water table...

      I am an Iowa boy. I don't buy the BS about ethanol, or it's subsidy by the government.

      A lot of farmers make money by "getting theirs" from the subsidy and increased sale price of corn, but that isn't the most responsible way, just merely the most lucrative one for them, increasingly corporate farming operations, which have a push for financial growth over sustainability.

      Government gets into that, as well, with Sarbanes-Oxley, which is putting pressure on all kinds corporations for focus on quarterly reporting, rather than longer term responsibility. That also pushes corporate farming to focus on quarterly numbers, and any corporate management team wants to post growth numbers, not loss numbers. Pushing for growth numbers in farming isn't necessarily the best way to maintain the land.

      Plus, as all sorts of people invest in ethanol production in the midwest stand to lose their shirts if the oil commodity market falls. It happened in the 80s, and it can happen again. All sorts of alternative energy was starting to be researched in the late 70s, under Carter, but when OPEC dropped the oil prices and flooded the market with supply in the 80's, the investment in alternative energy stopped, because it was no longer cost effective compared to the barrel price of oil.

      Now energy prices are back up, and it's all going on again. All it will take is OPEC saying enough is enough, and tanking that price again. People will be loving the cheap gas, but the ethanol plans will be sold off (likely to energy companies...) for pennies on the dollar, and the initial investors will be left holding the bag, again.

      Believe what you want about ethanol, and alcohol in general, as a fuel, but it isn't a primary source (it takes too much energy input vs. the output) and it isn't more efficient to burn.

      If oil supply, rather than just commodity price were a perrenial problem, ethanol might be a solution, simply by remaining as petrochemical availability wanes. But that is not the case, and there are more global oil reserves than ever, and the time estimate is going UP, not down, with increased useage in emerging markets.

      We can, and currently do pump enough oil, and we could pump more domestically to offset importation. It is much more difficult to grow the square miles of corn and other grains to both FEED the planet, and FUEL the planet, especially when it still takes a lot of energy to grow that crop, and process it into alcohol.

      Food should not be used as fuel, it is just an inferior way of doing things, especially when fuel is available a
        far jr
        • 7 Years Ago
        Corn used in the production of ethanol can give us both fuel and feed for cattle in the form of dried distillers grain and solubles. The foodchain argument is highly distorted.

        There are numerous acres of land in the US which lays fallow at taxpayer expense (CRP type set aside). Tax dollars should end for these land programs and return the land to crop production.

        I don't think ethanol is the complete answer but I do think it is a good piece of the puzzle. Oil needs competition from ethanol, methane, hydrogen, electricity, anything... More competition means better choices and better prices for consumers!
        • 7 Years Ago
        Thank you, i've been so shocked that people are buying into this marketing propoganda BS. It's also shocking that the politicians actually agreed to subsidize this waste of time and energy while it takes away from the nations food supply. Mind-boggling.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Gasoline direct injection is effectively nullifying the advancement of ethanol for naturally aspirated engines.

      Direct injection allows for a higher compression ratio, with the same AKI fuel.
        • 7 Years Ago
        and even more compression with a higher AKI fuel presumably.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Here in Brazil the guys use to use ethanol for high performance engines. Factory alcohol engines come with a compression ratio of 12. Normally aspirated performance engines goes just over 14.

      And yes, the engined needs ~30% more fuel comparing to gasoline, but in most places alcohol is up to 50% cheaper than gasoline.

      Some benefits:
      - the engine runs cooler
      - lot less pollution
      - higher CRs
      - it is made from sugar cane down here, and we have a lot of this available
      - cheaper production costs

      Other than that, can you all imagine that every farm in the world could have sugar cane, corn, or any other thing like that ... ?

      Isn't worth it?
      • 7 Years Ago
      The performance world has been using E85 for a few years now. Rhys Millens Solstice drift car runs on E85. Hot Rod Magazine has had quiet a few tests on it. Evo, Supra, and WRX guys have been using it.

      In July - a Viper did 220 in a standing mile on E85... http://gtrusa.blogspot.com/2007/07/e85-viper-does-220mph-in-standing-mile.html
      • 7 Years Ago
      The point is even though ethanol gets significantly fewer miles per gallon of fuel than straight gasoline does, engines can actually run stronger on it. For those looking for more power, rather than economy, ethanol can often provide more horses from the same engine. I think the jury is out as to whether ethanol production (and its costs in fossil fuels) is good for the environment. But for those trying to wring every last hp out of their ride, ethanol definitely has a place.
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