• May 7th 2010 at 7:54PM
  • 49
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be faced with a decision on the future of ethanol soon and no matter what choice is made, it won't be a popular one. Ethanol producers are pushing the EPA to raise the blend level in gasoline to 15 percent (E15), but automakers and oil companies are pushing back with hopes of keeping the current 10 percent level (E10).
Up until now, automakers speculated that damage to this component or failure of that part would occur with the move to E15. Without concrete evidence that E15 could prove damaging to vehicles, it seems quite likely that the EPA will move forward and raise levels.

For automakers, then, there's no time like the present to come forward with actual tests that prove E15 could damage vehicles. The New York Times reports that the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, representing 11 automakers, has real data to prove (so they say) that E15 will damage numerous gasoline engines. Speaking on behalf of the alliance, General Motors biofuel implementation manager C. Coleman Jones said that the increased ethanol levels caused problems in at least half of the engines tested. E15 made engines run hot, compromised catalytic converters and even damaged cylinder walls. Jones added that E15 could leave motorists stranded on the roadside.

The two sides, the auto industry and ethanol producers, have pushed back and forth for some time now. The auto industry wants the changeover to E15 to be delayed until further testing is complete, ethanol producers need the switch to be immediate or they risk losing a lot of cash.

[Source: NYTimes | Image: Drewzhrodague - C.C. License 2.0]


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  • 49 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      I don't see any flexfuel pumps around (I live in the greater DC metro area), yet there are tons of vehicles around here that have the flexfuel symbol on them. Seems to me there's plenty of room for the ethanol people to expand without increasing the blend ratio. Am I missing something?
        • 8 Months Ago
        Ethanol in some areas can cost more and you get something like 75% of the mileage when it's in the tank.

        I forget which car it was.. but there's a chevy that gets 29mpg hwy on e10, but gets 21mpg hwy when you put e85 in the tank. i think it was a v6 impala.. i forget.
        • 8 Months Ago
        I run 91 in my jeep, which it isn't supposed to. That's in Colorado, where temperatures are regularly below freezing.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Cool. Thanks for the info Nep and Allch! I checked Mercury's website, and the compression ratio is 12.3:1.

        Since I don't quite have 2k miles on it yet, I'll keep going with 87 to let it break in and get some more miles on it with a nice big dataset. After that, I will probably experiment with going up to 89 for a while, and if there's a solid improvement, then I'll try the premium stuff and see how that goes.

        I do not know what the total environmental effect is for a lower vs a higher octane fuel (from refinement to emissions). For the moment, I assume that, if a higher octane gives me better mileage, then that has to be better overall. I could be wrong.
        • 8 Months Ago
        nrb: that's weird. I've never experienced that before. But it doesn't go below 25 degrees out here in oregon, ever.
        • 8 Months Ago
        "You could try 91 octane, it would not hurt your car at all."

        Yes and no. When the temperature drops (a lot), a car designed to run on 87 octane will run poorly or even stall on 91 octane fuel. Once the car has warmed sufficiently, you should be fine.

        Btw: I've seen people temporarily stranded as a result of this. I can't say the same for ethanol. :)
        • 8 Months Ago
        Below freezing isn't normally cold enough. Gotta get below zero. I've verified with multiple technicians (mechanics) that this is not an unusual side effect of running too high an octane.

        Basically, if you want to run high octane fuel in a car that's not designed for it, don't do it in January. Of course, there's no real advantage to doing it in the first place, unless you want to avoid ethanol.
        • 8 Months Ago
        I understand the problems with E85 regarding significant decreased in fuel economy (I think it is the V6 Impala, Nep, I remember seeing that before as well).

        I didn't know that it was a distribution issue.

        Also, would the flexfuel vehicles be hurt by E15? I would assume not. The engines that are hurt must be the pure gas variety.

        On a side note, would putting in a higher octane fuel be good for my Atkinson-cycle hybrid (Mariner hybrid)? The compression ratio is quite high on it (if I remember correctly, it's around 12). Right now, I just put in regular (87) and I'm getting 39.0 mpg.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Actually it is pretty ideal for E85.

        http://www.greenenergynetwork.com/media/studies/prius-e85.PDF

        They ran a 2003 Toyota Prius and the power increased noticeably. The last two charts containing wheel hp and highway fuel economy are missing so I don't know how it affected fuel economy. But the fuel flow increased 32% over Gasoline.

        It would require modifications to work on your Mariner. If Mercury recommends 87 octane that is what you should use while the vehicle is new.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Ethanol doesn't transport easily. Right now it's all done by truck, as opposed to pipeline like gas. That's why there aren't any pumps in the DC area. However, if you pay attention, you will likely see stickers on most pumps saying "This gas may contain up to 10% ethanol". This is what they want to increase to 15%, aka E15.

        And like others have said, Ethanol has a much lower energy content than gasoline, so you get worse mileage. And the prices for pure gas and E10 are the same, so you pay even more.

        E85 is the worst offender. Mileage is much worse on E85, and even with the cost savings over gas, it ends up costing more because you use it faster.
        • 8 Months Ago
        You could try 91 octane, it would not hurt your car at all.

        I usually run one level up in all my cars, i have noticed a slight increase in performance in some of them.

        My BMW used to get better mileage on 91 vs. 89. It had about a 10:1 compression ratio.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'd much rather trust the industry trying to avoid massive damage to existing products vs one that's trying to make profits via gov regulation.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Or the car manufacturers could start making ALL of their ICE vehicles they produce flexfuel capable, to prevent problems in the future when the standard inevitably goes up, but why would they want to do something that makes sense... On the E15 note, it would probably be better to leave the standard at E10, as there definately could be problems increasing it. However, on the other hand, we're running out of cheap gas, and Ethanol is a less-than-perfect but adequate answer to a liquid-fuel gas substitute. So... I'd say raise the standard to E11 for now, and slowly think about working up from there, and pass a law to make all US sold liquid-fueled vehicles flexfuel from now on to deal with the inevitable future gas shortages when they arrive. Simple stuff, so it will never happen.
        • 8 Months Ago
        actually, that manufacturers DO have a stake in this. IF the standard was raised to E15 AND got 75% less fuel econ, then the CAFE rules that the manufacturers are trying to meet by 2016 would mean that the manufacturers WOULD have to do a LOT more fuel econ stuff than they are now which means billions of dollars. (yup, one terrible run on sentence, lol)

        basically, manufacturers need to keep the rules as is to meet the standards or else be fined massively. if they are already scrambling, imagine if things went to E15. they would sh1t a cow.
        • 8 Months Ago
        I suppose carbeurated and early fuel injection cars would have this problem. OBD1 and above though, shouldn't be an issue.

        Yes, e10 did drop the fuel economy of cars by a bit. I was reading some hypermiler boards and they mentioned this. A lot of them were desperate to find out where they could get real gas. Kinda sad!
        • 8 Months Ago
        Seriously. The oil companies have an obvious financial stake in this, as do the ethanol producers. However, the auto manufacturers *shouldn't* care and shouldn't have anything to gain or lose financially one way or the other. The fact that the are so against this for engine damage reasons should be taken seriously.

        On a side note -- I do NOT feel good about getting worse gas mileage (ethanol has less energy density) and, I would assume, paying at least as much per gallon as I do now. Cars need to dump more fuel into the mix in order to keep everything in check with ethanol vs. gasoline. If you kept the quantity of fuel going into the engine the same but changed the % of ethanol, you would ABSOLUTELY have the effect of running lean, which means higher temperatures and damage just as stated in the article. Not all cars are capable of making the appropriate A/F ratio adjustments automatically!!!!!!!!!!!
        • 8 Months Ago
        "auto manufacturers *shouldn't* care and shouldn't have anything to gain or lose financially one way or the other"

        Maybe not. Making cars ethanol capable costs $100 to $200 more per vehicle. Maybe they see the 15% blend as a step towards a mandate to produce all cars E100 capable in the future?
        • 8 Months Ago
        Thats one way to reduce US oil consumption: cause irreparable damage to half the entire fleet of cars on the roads.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I know this is not the norm but during the summer I use E30 in my 1997 Toyota RAV4 and I still get over 30mpg With E10 I get 31 - 32 during the summer and 27 - 28 during the winter and I've never checked with 100% gas. I drive up to 200 miles a day. Bought the truck for $3000 with some minor body damage. It is not a FLEX Fuel vehicle but it works just fine with E30 I now have over 150 k miles on it and when it hits 175 I'll buy another one. Maybe a 1999 model.
        • 8 Months Ago
        I'd not recommend running e30 in your car at all times. If it's going to do damage, it will be a slow, gradual process.. e30 is very likely to damage your engine over a long period of time. At the very least, it will reduce the life of your catalytic converter and possibly start corroding your fuel lines and fuel tank, depending on what types of metal used. Back in '97 they did not have ethanol in fuel at all, so i doubt they assumed the car would run on that.

        Just warning ya. You're kinda playing with fire. Or firewater.. lol
        • 8 Months Ago
        I know I may be playing with fire but E-30 is cheep in South Dakota $2.30 and I put it in a vehicle I don't care about. If it died tomorrow I got my use out of it.

        BTW we've had E10 since the mid 80s here. There are also several "blender pumps" that a lot of folks use here and back when gas was $4 a gallons we were blending our own. There is no widespread damage to vehicles that is reported and I doubt bumping to E15 would be any big deal but I'm no scientist.
        • 8 Months Ago
        I run E-30-E50 manual blend, sometimes more (E-70) in my 4cyl Jeep Cherokee. I wish we had access to the South Dakota blender pumps here in Illinois. It would make fueling easier. I've been running it from 60,000 Miles on the ethanol blend and just pushed over 100K. Purrs like a kitten. Check this video out. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuOs1yap8mU
      • 5 Years Ago
      Yep, that's how it works folks.

      E10 is the maximum they can use before pushing the luck with older regular gasoline engines. E10 was only a easy fix to replace MTBE.

      The only way Ethanol is going to happen is if new cars are built to be compatible from the beginning and the availability of E85 increases to the point that Pure Ethanol cars become practical. Right now early adopters among older non-FlexFuel cars have to manage fuel supplies. Something that would make a first year bureaucrat extremely nervous. Brazil gets unique Ethanol fueld cars why can't the US? The Suppliers are just itching to deliver more Ethanol but the Demand is too low.

      The first thing they could do it legalize E85 conversion, not for just for Kits but for individuals DIY. Right now they get by but rue they day the Politicians consider it a revenue source, it isn't.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Question:

      Whether it's 10% or 15%, I still rarely come across gas pumps that dispense it. Are gas stations still free to decide if they'll sell pure gasoline or a blend? Or will they be forced?
        • 8 Months Ago
        I believe it has to do with availability. Where I live, it's readily available, so nearly every single (87 octane) pump has ethanol. Also, keep in mind that E10 means "up to" 10%. If the availability isn't there, the percentage will be less.
        • 8 Months Ago
        In the greater DC metro area, every pump I've seen says "contains 10% ethanol" regardless of oil company. Granted, I certainly haven't seen *every* gas station in the region - there's hundreds of them. In my little area alone, there's 5 within a 1-mile radius from my apartment, and if you expand that radius to 2 miles, add at least 7 more that I can think of. Expand that to 5 miles, add at least another 15 to 20 gas stations. It's sick.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I can't speak for other model cars, and I've mentioned this before on ABG before, but I've run my 97 saturn sl just under 40k mi on E85 with just an injector change to handle the extra fuel flow. The car has 195k mi on it now and it's running fine. I do run M1 synthetic oil and change it every 3k mi. I think that helps with any leak down of ethanol which may thin the oil. I've taken apart just about every part of the fuel system and examined it and can't find any cracked fuel lines, damaged o rings, etc. In fact, I think the o rings on the injectors look better than when I ran straight gas in this car. So from my personal experience, I think the wear talked about is perhaps overstated. I am impressed by how clean the inside of the cylinders and injectors are when running E85. Don't get me wrong, I can't wait to go electric. To me electric is the holy grail of local personal transport, and a leaf is in my future. For now though this will have to do.
      • 5 Years Ago
      If our car engines were designed to burn alchohol fuels, then they would be more efficient then flex fuel badges vehicles. So, another way to think of it is that e85 is not the problem, the old engine designs are. Let's say the government were to assist with the transition costs to E85 the national fleet. It's a few hundred, maybe, for fuel lines of an e85 compatible material and a pass through converter for the ignition on most electronically controlled ignition systems, all available off the shelf right now.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Where I live, we have E20. I also have close ties to the automotive repair industry. I've yet to see a single valid claim of E20 damaging a car made in the last few decades (I can't speak for antiques).

      If E20 isn't damaging cars, E15 sure as hell won't.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Interesting, how long have you had e20 over there?

        I believe i accidentally filled up with some of that once, either e20 or e30.. my BMW didn't sound right at all.. it seemed to have more power, but when until that tank was gone, it didn't start very well. Maybe it just didn't have enough time to recalibrate for that fuel ( this was during a lot of highway driving ), but it freaked me out.

        That's all i know about higher formulations of gasoline.

        BTW.. do you know if there are less carbon deposits with that stuff? that could be a plus..
        • 8 Months Ago
        It's not a guarantee for the rest of the world though. Even nominally similar cars are slightly different in different markets, and be it just a single o-ring seal or rubber hose.

        If more ethanol-compatible versions of these parts are even a fraction of a cent more expensive, auto companies will not install them unless the market absolutely requires it, e.g. in countries like Brazil. In many instances it's not even that, often they don't even bother looking at alternatives.
        • 8 Months Ago
        "I was talking about the world "
        Good enough. I was just looking for clarification.

        "Just because you haven't heard of damage related to ethanol content doesn't mean it never happens."

        True, but I have the advantage of several thousand samples in an area that is a ethanol leader. On top of that, research by Universities (aka, not funded by big oil) agrees.

        I feel comfortable in my belief that the 'ethanol damages cars' claim is an overstatement. I have no problem putting it in my car, but then I have no choice. ;)
        • 8 Months Ago
        neptronix, We've only been E20 for a few years. E10 before that. The UofM and others have done studies. These studies also indicate no problem.

        DasBoese, by different markets, do you mean within the US? There's a lot of interstate travel so that would be strange. I also wonder if Ford's claim to be ethanol ready has to do with what you're taking about.

        • 8 Months Ago
        No nrb, I was talking about the world (ya know, earth), since I don't know where you're posting from.

        Just because you haven't heard of damage related to ethanol content doesn't mean it never happens. Things like o-ring seals, rubber hoses or small plastic parts (think bearing cages) can all be susceptible to long term ethanol corrosion. As other people noted, engines (especially carburated engines or older, less sophisticated EFIs) that aren't properly tuned for high ethanol contents can experience loss of performance and accelerated wear.
        All things that might not be noticed they're normal wear and tear, just a bit sooner than usual, which people generally attribute to bad luck or having a "lemon".
      • 5 Years Ago
      Ethanol's been a cheap joke since the 1970s, and it's no different today - with one exception: The corn lobby, headed by Archer Daniels Midland. Farmers have no stake in this. ADM megacorp does.

      Obviously, new cars can be built to run on any fuel we like - 100% alcohol is great for making power (as we've seen in 40 years of drag racing), but none of us wants to have to pull over and refuel every 20 miles, at $3/gallon.

      We do need a plethora of solutions. We need more diesel. We need more turbos. We need better traffic planning and MUCH better public transit. We need gas taxes that stabilize the market and encourage better THINKING towards fuel economy.

      Most of all, we need to realize that cheap gas is OVER.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Just ask Ducati and BMW motorcycles on what the E10 does already to fuel tanks! Complete rubbish if they move in this direct!!!!
      • 5 Years Ago
      I am having a hard time wraping my head around the fact the Auto Alliance says that raising the ethanol level makes the motor run hotter, Dosent ethanol have a cooling effect? Someone have any answers on that comment?. And Nep I have to agree running a higher octane is the only way to go even in my crappy fan I put in 91 lol aswell as synthetic blend oil, its super close to 300k so I'm trying to get it to run till the end of the summer then it can be done.
        • 8 Months Ago
        If I remember correctly, Alcohol has a lower boiling point than gasoline/petrol, so if that is true then I think it combusts at a lower temperature as well. I would think that this would create a cooler engine, so it would be easier on the engine too.
        Someone out there have any links too prove/disprove?
        A engine research company, Ricardo, has created and is testing an engine that burns ethanol that they claimed performs as well as a diesel engine. If this is true then it just proves that the fuel is not the problem, but old engine design and technology.
        IIRC, in the past hoses and o-rings/seals made of a range of materials that came into contact with ethanol would slowly crumble apart, sending bits of rubber like materials into the combustion chamber, sticking to the walls there and could cause major mechanical issues there. However, the type of materials used has changed over the years and has become much more compatible with ethanol, as have fuel tanks and all sorts of materials that contact the fuel on its way through the engine.
        Also, I spoke to an engine engineer a few years back, worked for a boat company, and said that ethanol was not good for marine applications yet. He saw many issues where the older fuels had deposited junk along the fuel lines and filters over time. When Ethanol was used, it lifted the junk off the hose walls and other places and clogged filters. AS soon as the filters were replaced the boats had no starting problems or related issues. However, ethanol would grab onto a lot of water in the air and would create an issue of water entering the fuel tank, which was not good. Mainly, the old fuel tank seals were a problem because they relied on the muck in the fuel to help with creating a very tight seal.
      • 5 Years Ago
      As i suspected!
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