• Jun 2nd 2008 at 8:02AM
  • 28
Here's a story that might send angry chills through you: the U.S. Postal Service's (USPS) flexfuel experiment is revealing some terrible results.

The Postal Service has been testing out a cleaner vehicle fleet for many years. It is today made up of over 30,000 vehicles like hybrids (pictured) and ones that run on CNG or biodiesel, among many other gasoline alternatives. The USPS is also trying other ways to save fuel, like better delivery routes. As Sustainable Business reports, though, the USPS' flexfuel vehicles not only saw a decreased fuel efficiency of 29 percent, but also ended up forcing the USPS to use 1.5m gallons more gasoline than before. Why? Because the USPS couldn't buy and use E85 everywhere it wanted to and so the flexfuel engines - which were larger than the ones they replaced - were thirsty and burned more fuel. The USPS has declared that it will now only use E85-capable vehicles in places where the biofuel is "competitively priced and conveniently available," a USPS study says (see page 17 of that PDF for easy-to-understand maps of what went wrong here).

[Source: USPS, Sustainable Business via EVWorld]


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  • 28 Comments
      • 8 Months Ago
      "USPS' flexfuel vehicles not only saw a decreased fuel efficiency of 29 percent, but also ended up forcing the USPS to use 1.5m gallons more gasoline than before. Why? Because the USPS couldn't buy and use E85 everywhere it wanted to and so the flexfuel engines - which were larger than the ones they replaced - were thirsty and burned more fuel."

      The reason the USPS used more gasoline with a fleet of flexfuel vehicles is the flexfuel vehicles were larger and/or had larger engines. The energy content of ethanol is a separate issue. Remember that flexfuel vehicles are generally built either to satisfy a government mandate and/or to get more favorable CAFE limits. As a result, only fleet quality domestic cars and thirsty trucks get the extra hardware to be flexfuel. The Chevy Tahoe and Ford Crown Victoria are available as flexfuel vehicles in the US. The 4 cylinder Chevy Malibu and all the consumer quality "foreign" models are not.

      Making flexfuel vehicles isn't such a bad idea. You have to make the fuel system out of materials that can survive ethanol and methanol in addition to gasoline and you need an optical sensor to detect the relative gasoline/alcohol mix going into the engine. In the real world, flexfuel vehicles run on gasoline until someone figures out how to make ethanol or methanol at a lower cost than gasoline. If Coskata, etc. succeed, cars are ready to switch over and if they fail, the extra cost of the flexfuel hardware is low.

      • 8 Months Ago
      It's my understanding that the core benefit of E85 is reduced emissions, not reduced consumption. It's a very clean-burning fuel, but it definitely has less energy content than gasoline.

      And with grain crops now seeing worldwide food shortages, it seems like the time for E85 is not now. Food crops should not be diverted to fuel production. When cellulosic ethanol becomes more mainstream and can be produced from agricultural byproducts, rather than virgin grains, then we should look into making it a staple in the fuel supply.
      • 8 Months Ago
      GM supports this E85 boondoggle because it is a CAFE loophole. The "Net benefit" of E85 is debatable, when you factor in all the energy inputs that go into producing it.

      End the Billion dollar subsidies and CAFE loopholes and Ethanol as fuel would disappear. It is nothing but a lobby driven grab of taxpayer money.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Sebastian,
      Your editorializing in this piece that it is "terrible" shows that you are unaware of the significant limitations and negative side-effects of biofuel use. The use of electric vehicles for the USPS is practically a no-brainer as other commenters have noted. Biofuels may their uses when SUSTAINABLE biofuels and a biofueling system has been invented.

      What unregulated use of biofuels can and could do to the soil, water supplies, and to the global food economy...that might be considered to be "terrible".

      There is no excuse for writers on this blog to be so little informed. It ain't "yay biofuels!" anymore.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Again,
      Matt Kelly, Why would you want to push ahead with biofuels in this application when this is literally perfect for an EV? You could use lead acid batteries for these vehicles as they don't require a long range. EV's internally are 3. to 3.5x more efficient than a internal combustion engine.

      If the idea is to use renewable energy, you would need 200 acres of corn to produce the same energy as an acre of solar panels or wind turbines spread over 3 acres. We don't have that many acres of arable land in the US to produce the biofuels.

      So "yay, biofuels!" is seriously out of date.
      • 7 Years Ago
      EVs would be great, sadly in my area in suburbs of Chicago they decided to use large GM SUVs for all the local mail deliver. I guess the upper management is on the retarded side...
      • 8 Months Ago
      Matt Kelly,
      You ARE an apologist for one of the faultiest ideas to ever emerge from American agribusiness or (as of a couple years ago) environmentalism. There is definitely NOT enough acres of arable land for ethanol. Almost every serious study shows a vastly larger area (some say around 50% of the land area of the US including Alaska) would be required to substitute ethanol for gasoline. That is 50% of the land area including Alaskan tundra and arid lands of the West....

      You must be smoking something...
      • 8 Months Ago
      Looking at his other posts, GM apologist it is.

      E85 makes no sense presently, there are a multitude of interesting stories of alternatives claiming to be the next big thing.

      You can look at what exists or fantasize amongst the possible alternatives. If you are going to fantasize, then things like this:
      http://www.autobloggreen.com/2008/05/29/sapphire-turns-microorganisms-sunlight-and-co-sub-2-sub-into/

      With the equivalent energy of Gas, and no crop lands going to waste sound like another decent alternative.

      But hey since it works in unmodified cars, no CAFE loophole for GM, so no support.

      Right now the things that actually make sense are efficiency. Small cars, and efficient hybrids like the Prius. Long term electrics make the most sense where applicable.


      • 8 Months Ago
      Best case - the USPS should be running its vehicles on domestically produced natural gas.

      And we should stop wasting natural gas on electricity production when nukes and renewables are available.

      E85 is a boondoggle.
      And EVs don't have the range for rural delivery. They probably don't even have the range for most urban delivery.
      • 8 Months Ago
      i've been driving the flex fuel vechicle now for 3-4 weeks. the worst milage . i've been averaging 6-8 mile per gallon. we only have one station that we can get e85 in our area. everytime the po trys to do something right they mess up. we are so mismanaged that we are a joke to everyone. they need people who kwow what they are doing. we the workers carriers , mailhandlers,clerks make the postal service not management. if it wasn't for us there would be no post office.
      • 8 Months Ago
      Ethanol is still currently a bad joke. The vast majority (in the USA) is still from corn. Filling up your SUV with E85 is still wasting enough agricultural resources to feed a person for a year. That is just obscene.

      E85 is not cleaner than burning gas (may in fact be worse).

      The hideous energy return 30% means this is corporate welfare propped up by taxpayer money.

      Want ethanol to have some respect.

      1: Dump the subsidies.
      2: Open the border to Brazilian Ethanol (700% energy return)

      If it can't be produced economically and compete in the free market, it is not a fuel, but a means of redirecting tax payer money to the corn lobby.


      • 8 Months Ago
      Matt,
      The infrastructure for renewables is just a matter of ramping up factories that produce wind turbines and solar cells. We have lousy policies here in the US in support of these. If we had feed in tariffs like they have in Europe, the factories would be built and running around the clock. There are no significant technical breakthroughs required.

      Furthermore, no amount of infrastructure is going to make all the water you need or the arable soil that you will need to grow all those crops. Photosynthesis a process that perhaps is a couple billion years old, is not going to start doubling or tripling in efficiency anytime soon. Solar panels and wind turbines on the other hand, will continue to get more efficient.

      Even if we use conventional power, EVs are greener and more practical for postal vehicles than a vast majority of biofuel processes that are possible in temperate climates.

      Cellulosic ethanol is still a maybe and using all that corn for biofuels is just continuing to raise already high food prices.

      Your myopia in this regard does suggest that you have a vested interest in some ethanol related business...though you may simply be very narrow minded and just a little bit ignorant of the basics of economics and the First Law of Thermodynamics.
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