Expanded coverage of very high ethanol-induced performance

Today marks the start of our "expanded coverage" of our recent trip to SVS Power in Chicago. We were turned onto the shop by Karl Jacob, the owner of the E85 Viper that we covered not too long ago. This vehicle has sparked a bit of a debate regarding the merits of ethanol, E85 in particular. The current situation in America has the majority of ethanol production coming from corn. This is causing problems with corn in the food sector, going so far as to lead to a near riot from corn-tortilla lovers. My stance has been, and still is, that ethanol is a good thing while making it solely from corn is less of a good thing. That stance is backed up by Ron Sr. of SVS Performance, who gave three good reasons to use ethanol instead of race gas for use in high performance applications:

  • E85 is less costly than race gas.
  • E85 is easier to find at pumps than race gas.
  • E85 is possibly sustainable and much easier on the environment than race gas.

We will focus on E85's sustainability and environmental impact in this post and in successive coverage on SVS Power, their E85 Viper and other supercar projects and Karl Jacobs' ongoing progress towards his future goals. Additional coverage on Autoblog will focus on the technical side of the vehicles and in their exceedingly high performance.

Continue reading after the break, and check out the Picture Gallery from our recent visit.

Is ethanol the king of high performance cars?

First, I would like to thank Ron Sr. and Ron Jr. of SVS Power and Karl Jacob for their cooperation with us in arranging this visit. If you appreciate the coverage, let them know about it in the comments.

While in Chicago for the Auto Show, John Neff, Sam Abuelsamid, Chris Shunk, Eric Bryant and I stopped by SVS Power and met up with Ron Sr. and Ron Jr. While there, we snapped shots, took video and awed at their work. There were five Vipers, a Noble and a late 60's Camaro with a 502 GM Crate engine. By springtime, SVS will have 7 Vipers and a Noble running on E85. Power from the vehicles ranges between 700 and 1700 horsepower, with Karl's Viper (the black twin-turbo in our gallery) making 1100 horsepower on E85. Expect that number to increase in the near future, and expect us to cover that as well. Karl has 4 independent and optimized fuel maps to choose from with his custom-programmed Motec computer system allowing him to run on any pump gas, race gas or E85 blend he so chooses. Karl can also adjust his rear-wheel-horsepower by around 130hp and 200ft-lbs of torque by varying the boost pressure, to maintain driveability.

As I mentioned earlier, expect more developments from SVS and Karl Jacob to come. SVS plans an all-out assault on the Bonneville salt-flats in their race-tuned, twin-turbo Viper, reaching for 300 mph. Karl's plans will be revealed to you readers in due time, as well as other classified projects lurking in the SVS garage that we have been promised coverage of. These projects include E85 tuneability.

Why choose E85 for these high performance cars? We have gone over some of this before, but, at the risk of being redundant, repeating ourselves and saying the same thing again... the performance reasons are that E85 burns much cooler than gasoline, and carries a significantly higher octane level. As far as being green, E85 is a cleaner fuel than gasoline, and is much, much better than race gasoline. Methanol would also be an option, although it is more highly corrosive than ethanol, especially on aluminum -- of which there is plenty on these machines. Regarding sustainability, estimates vary widely. Some claim that ethanol is not sustainable, however, many of their projections come from the use of corn as the feedstock. Corn is not even close to being the best available biomass for ethanol production. Current statistics show that sugar beets, some grasses and possibly algae hold out great promise for ethanol production. Ethanol also carries government subsidies and can utilize the current gasoline infrastructure already in place across the U.S.

Current problems with ethanol include it's lower energy density than gasoline. This means that it takes more ethanol to produce the same amount of power as with gasoline. However, because the fuel burns cooler, compression can be raised, or the engine can be turbocharged, as in the E85 Viper, bringing power levels up. Some estimate that with proper tuning, ethanol could equal gasoline's power production. Results from VW and SVS Power back up this theory.

In conclusion, nobody on this site is claiming that these vehicles are green in the sense that they use less fuel than other similar vehicles. Neither were they designed with peak efficiency in mind. So why are they covered here? For one, they use ethanol, which, as an alternative to fossil-fuels deserves coverage here. Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, these vehicles prove that high performance does not have to end with the demise of fossil-fuels. The vehicles presented here and, in the future on Autoblog, make roughly the same amount of power on E85 as on race gas. By tuning to take advantage of ethanol's performance virtues, sufficient power can and will be made using ethanol fuel. At this time, however, "premium" gasoline is still the king of high performance cars, and will remain so until the word gets out that cheap ethanol can outperform it.

Consider, for a moment, the Chevy Volt -- so dutifully covered here on ABG. Using a small turbocharged engine charging the batteries, the vehicle offers sufficient performance, good looks, efficient packaging and a range of 640 miles between fill-ups. If every Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Chevy Malibu and Ford Fusion were powered in this manner, the cost of the technology would drop drastically, and fuel consumption would do the same. This would make a switchover to ethanol (not produced from corn!) very easy and sensible. The reduced fuel consumption would factor into helping ethanol remain sustainable, especially when an efficient biomass starting point is used. Will the future meet these expectations, or is this a pie-in-the-sky attitude that will never happen? Watch these pages and find out. If nothing else, the future promises to be exciting. Hopefully some day soon we will pronounce: The King is dead. Long live the King.

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