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The Great Ethanol Scam

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the don't-even-think-about-switch-grass dept.

Power 894

theodp writes "Over at BusinessWeek, Ed Wallace is creating quite a stir, reporting that not only is ethanol proving to be a dud as a fuel substitute, but there is increasing evidence that it is destroying engines in large numbers. Before lobbyists convince the government to increase the allowable amount of ethanol in fuel to 15%, Wallace suggests it's time to look at ethanol's effect on smog, fuel efficiency, global warming emissions, and food prices. Wallace concedes there will be some winners if the government moves the ethanol mandate to 15% — auto mechanics, for whom he says it will be the dawn of a new golden age."

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894 comments

Don't blame me, (5, Funny)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089111)

I just like to drink boooze!

Re:Don't blame me, (1)

Falkentyne (760418) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089197)

I've been topping my tank off all day today! Topping on? It's topped!

Re:Don't blame me, (1)

olsmeister (1488789) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089245)

Hey, I resemble that comment!

Ethanol is just stupid (5, Insightful)

cyberspittle (519754) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089115)

Instead of using corn (worse than sugar cane), soy beans and bio diesel would be beter. I always thought that diesel engines get better mileage.

Re:Ethanol is just stupid (5, Insightful)

gringofrijolero (1489395) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089183)

Yes, it is stupid. But it's very well connected politically. Like always, it's about bringing home the bacon. The farmers thought they had a winner.

Re:Ethanol is just stupid (1)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089215)

You can extract ethanol from bacon? Sheesh, those farm animal injections are worse than I thought!

Re:Ethanol is just stupid (4, Funny)

gringofrijolero (1489395) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089403)

You can extract ethanol from bacon?

Dunno.. But you might do better to extract and burn the grease. Porcine liposuction will be the next big thing.

Re:Ethanol is just stupid (0, Offtopic)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089415)

Did you think that swine flu and TFA are unrelated?

Re:Ethanol is just stupid (5, Informative)

WheelDweller (108946) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089199)

Engines with super-refined fuel always get worse gas mileage.

See, the crude oil is heated in a stack; the tar-like parts stay at the bottom, the lighter fuels find their way up. The thicker stuff at the bottom is MUCH more densely packed with energy- that's where the diesel is. It's 'cruder' (notice it almost doesn't WANT to burn) but it actually carries nore BTU-power per drop. Refine it more, to where it almost wants to burn when ya touch it, and it won't have so much power anymore.

Oil is neat stuff; you might find the Discovery Channel's "Modern Marvels: Oil" episode to be an eye-opener.

And BTW: Rush Limbaugh has been noticing this same thing with ethanol. It's messing up the corn market and Mt Dew now has "Throwback" to make use of the now-cheaper cane sugar as an alternative.

Isn't life wonderful when we just let the government do things? :

Re:Ethanol is just stupid (4, Insightful)

blahplusplus (757119) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089559)

"Isn't life wonderful when we just let the government do things? :"

Just because the government makes mistakes does not mean the free market doesn't, there's plenty of mistakes both of them make and I wish the anti-government types would realize just how many free market failurs there out out there.

Nothing is perfect, the idea that there is some ideal perfect system or ideology is bullshit.

Re:Ethanol is just stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28089611)

Good freaking grief... Quit repeating all that "corn as fuel, raising corn as food prices"

The corn used for fuel was grown specifically for fuel, on fields that had been put-aside (pay to not grow type).

Now, I'm not saying I don't agree that something like sugar-beets couldn't be grown on the same land for better output.

Now - as to the diesel being the be-all/end-all... Try running a diesel engine in the upper-midwest in the winter. You'd have to plug your engine/fuel line/fuel tank, heaters in every time you stopped to get out for any amount of time, just to keep it from jelling up.

In the long run, all of these fuels don't add up to the true end-all/be-all of combustion style fuels - hydrogen... But that's another story altogether.

The idea behind Throwback is that there's a growing movement that thinks of high-fructose corn syrup as being a bad thing, and that natural sugar is easier on the body. It would also lead to the allowance of using Tagatose as a sugar replacement for Diabetics without having to change the formula (aside from left chiral sugar, vs right (normal) chiral sugar) - it was not released due to raised costs of corn-syrup.

Re:Ethanol is just stupid (5, Informative)

digitalunity (19107) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089629)

Refined corn sugars(LFCS, HFCS) were only ever cheaper because of tariffs on cane sugar, FYI.

Re:Ethanol is just stupid (3, Funny)

sreid (650203) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089313)

love to mod you up on the diesel rant but no mod points.. btw using corn will affect Fritos prices so not a good idea

Dangerous is worse than stupid. (5, Interesting)

reporter (666905) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089655)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released a study [nytimes.com] indicating that "when the E.P.A.'s scientists counted these indirect effects, corn ethanol emitted more greenhouse gases than gasoline over a 30-year period."

Other types of biofuel may be better than corn, but they have their problems too. According to a shocking report [time.com] by "Time Magazine", "if the world gets even 10% of its energy from these new kinds of crops, most tropical forests will probably disappear."

Not surprisingly, lobbyists for American agribusiness are angry as hell about the conclusions of the EPA study.

Really, the best way to partially fix this nonsense is to make Iowa (and its corn farmers) the last state to participate in both the Republican primary and the Democratic primary. Due to the importance of Iowa as the first state in the presidential primaries (including caucuses), Iowan agribusiness has a stranglehold on American politics, and its politicians do stupid things (like supporting corn-based ethanol) in order to cater to Iowa.

Also, has anyone noticed that no one has mentioned the #1 reason for the growing energy problem and its associated pollution problem? The #1 reason is overpopulation. If we reduced greenhouse-gas emissions by 3% over 10 years but increased the population by 3% over the same period across all nations, then we effectively accomplished nothing.

Can anyone guess why overpopulation is never mentioned by American politicians? Could the concept of overpopulation be too closely tied to illegal immigration?

Living in Iowa... (5, Interesting)

GilliamOS (1313019) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089121)

It's next to impossible to find a gas station that does not have Ethanol in it's fuel. It doesn't help that two huge ADM plants are with in 90 minutes of where I live. Regardless, there is a single Shell station in the area that has 93 octane V-power that is without ethanol. The cost different of $0.30/gal is offset by the noticeable decrease in fuel consumption, increased power, and smoothing the idle. Yes, my car is tuned to require at least 91 octane.

Re:Living in Iowa... (2, Interesting)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089343)

I have mentioned this before, but it strikes me as wasteful in modern car engines that the engine is run hot enough to cause the burning of nitrogen. This takes in more energy than it releases, so you lose energy by doing this.

There would appear to be two solutions to this: try to reduce the temperature in any given cylinder, or alter the oxygen/nitrogen ratio.

(Oxygen ionizes easier, for example, so you can use a magnetic field or a static charge to separate the two gases. This probably wouldn't work as a practical solution in a car, but it does suggest a practical solution may exist.)

If you could get more power out of an engine AND consume less fuel in the process, albeit only up to a certain point, additives would become less attractive.

Re:Living in Iowa... (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089541)

My assumption is that by running hot you emit more small molecules and fewer big molecules. So you get the nitrogen oxides but you are saved the nasty organic stuff.

I wonder about the economics of carrying cryogenic oxygen (or a different oxidiser) and not using air at all.

Re:Living in Iowa... (1)

TerranFury (726743) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089643)

In general, thermodynamic cycles are more efficient when they operate over a larger temperature difference. Wiki 'Carnot Efficiency.' Presumably this increased efficiency offsets energy losses from making NOx.

Average (4, Insightful)

olsmeister (1488789) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089139)

"Does the average citizen understand what this means?" No. Does the average /.er?

Re:Average (3, Insightful)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089247)

/.ers are fractal, so the average is undefined.

Sounds like a crock ... (-1, Troll)

DavidRawling (864446) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089141)

The part I loved most about the steaming biased crock of crap that is the article is the comment that E85 (15% Ethanol) means a 30% drop in mileage.

So E0 (100% ethanol) would be a drop of 200% in mileage? Does that mean you fuel with Ethanol and your car goes backwards?

Re:Sounds like a crock ... (3, Insightful)

DarrenBaker (322210) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089201)

It doesn't have to be a linear curve, dude. It could be 30% at 15%, and 50% at 90%.

Not saying anything about the veracity of the article, just sayin'.

Re:Sounds like a crock ... (4, Interesting)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089223)

The part I loved most about the steaming biased crock of crap that is the article is the comment that E85 (15% Ethanol) means a 30% drop in mileage.

So E0 (100% ethanol) would be a drop of 200% in mileage? Does that mean you fuel with Ethanol and your car goes backwards?

Hate to burst your bubble, but E85 is 85% ethanol. And it's quite apparent that you know nothing of math or energy density. The energy density of ethanol is about 26 MJ/kg whereas the energy density of gasoline is almost twice that at about 45 MJ/kg. So to answer your last quesion, you'd most likely get less than half the mileage out of your car if you used E100 (100% ethanol). BTW E0 is 0% ethanol, ie pure gasoline.

Re:Sounds like a crock ... (4, Insightful)

pjabardo (977600) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089439)

That is not exactly true. The power output of an internal combustion depends not only on the energy content of the fuel but on on other factors as well, such as, *VERY IMPORTANT* compression ratio. The higher the better and ethanol allows the use of considerably higher compression ratios without detonation. It doesn't compensate the lower calorific power of the ethanol (25% less mileage) but for the same engine, ethanol usually has a little higher rated power (it can operate on higher RPMs).

Re:Sounds like a crock ... (5, Informative)

Smallpond (221300) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089477)

Since gas is measured and sold by volume, it only makes sense to talk about energy density in those terms. Ethanol is 23.5 MJ/L while 87 octane gas is 34.8. Fuel use of E100 [indycar.com] seems to be growing. The most widely documented cases of damage due to use as an additive is when it is added to the driver.

Re:Sounds like a crock ... (2, Informative)

xianthax (963773) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089525)

Hate to burst your bubble, but E85 is 85% ethanol. And it's quite apparent that you know nothing of math or energy density. The energy density of ethanol is about 26 MJ/kg whereas the energy density of gasoline is almost twice that at about 45 MJ/kg. So to answer your last quesion, you'd most likely get less than half the mileage out of your car if you used E100 (100% ethanol). BTW E0 is 0% ethanol, ie pure gasoline.

there are more important factors than energy density here, for instance pure ethanol has an octane rating of ~116 allowing much higher combustion chamber pressures prior to detonation netting a power gain over what can be achieved with gasoline. granted the car needs to be designed for this, through higher compression piston, higher boost levels, and/or modified ignition timing.

theres a reason that ethanol is used in some drag leagues, and its not because of lower power output :)

Re:Sounds like a crock ... (1)

bjourne (1034822) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089617)

From your own energy density numbers 45/26 = 1.73. So you'd need 73% more ethanol fuel to get the same mileage as from a unit of gasoline. However, while ethanol has a lower energy density than gasoline, it has a higher octane rating which means that there is less waste heat and that the engine can run more efficiently. The article is right, a 20-30% drop in mileage is likely.

Re:Sounds like a crock ... (1)

Xabraxas (654195) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089235)

That does seem a bit outlandish but ethanol will kill your efficiency. Pure ethanol only gets about half the mileage of pure gasoline. It's also a disaster for food prices. It's just not a feasible alternative.

Re:Sounds like a crock ... (1)

nester (14407) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089549)

If your idea of efficiency is mpg (which is stupid when comparing different fuels), then yes it's much less efficient. If you want power from high compression, it's better than gasoline (much higher knock and detonation temperature thresholds). The real measure is mile per dollar, which is much lower with ethanol from corn vs gasoline, even before you take into account the rent-seeking scum bags who use corrupt politicians to steal tax money (subsidies).

Re:Sounds like a crock ... (1)

Xabraxas (654195) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089663)

If your idea of efficiency is mpg (which is stupid when comparing different fuels), then yes it's much less efficient. If you want power from high compression, it's better than gasoline (much higher knock and detonation temperature thresholds). The real measure is mile per dollar, which is much lower with ethanol from corn vs gasoline, even before you take into account the rent-seeking scum bags who use corrupt politicians to steal tax money (subsidies).

MPG is very important. How would you like to reduce your mileage per tank from 300 to 150 miles? That isn't going to be acceptable to most people even if ethanol was slightly cheaper, which it will never be without subsidies.

Re:Sounds like a crock ... (1)

MBCook (132727) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089251)

Now who sounds biased?

Hint: Not everything is linear.

Let's pretend that ethanol works exactly like gasoline. No extra corrosion, etc. It still seems like nothing but a money grab by corn / sugar farmers to me. No data I've ever seen makes it seem more useful than gasoline. It's a waste of food.

Now if we can produce cellulosic ethanol, that could be really useful.

But we can't right now (at least anywhere near cheaply). Corn ethanol isn't useful. Give it up.

Re:Sounds like a crock ... (1)

StellarFury (1058280) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089255)

E85 is 85% ethanol, 15% gasoline. Not the other way around. Thus, 100% ethanol would probably lead to a 35% drop in mileage or something like that.

Re:Sounds like a crock ... (2, Interesting)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089309)

While I agree with your general sense of the article, your math needs work.

Although the writer appears to be a respected journalist (see the brief bio at the end), the article is little more than disconnected anecdote. IF the big manufacturers are on the hook for multi thousand mile warranties and IF increasing ethanol concentrations from 15% to 18% routinely trashed engines within the warranty period then I would suspect that the manufactures would be complaining about this. Big Time. Yes, I read about ethanol induced damage not being a warranty repair, but having thousands of annoyed customers even more pissed off because of the fine print makes little long term economic sense.

And this is aside from the point that it can't really be that hard to devise plastics that are ethanol resistant. The stuff isn't hydroflouric acid. And fiberglass gas tanks? WTF. Never heard of them.

Sounds a bit hyperbolic to me (and thus perfect for a discussion here....).

Re:Sounds like a crock ... (5, Funny)

Killer Orca (1373645) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089423)

but having thousands of annoyed customers even more pissed off because of the fine print makes little long term economic sense.

Long term economic sense, something that every U.S. automaker has since when now?

Re:Sounds like a crock ... (1)

gringofrijolero (1489395) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089367)

Does that mean you fuel with Ethanol and your car goes backwards?

No biggie [jumbojourney.com]

Re:Sounds like a crock ... (3, Informative)

chaboud (231590) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089383)

Oh, sweet Jesus that's a moronic post.

Let's spell this out:

1. Ethanol damages fuel systems.
2. Our current methods for producing ethanol are not efficiency winners.
3. Ethanol has lower energy density than gasoline.
4. The pro ethanol lobby is unnaturally strong.
5. You are posting at below-average quality ***for slashdot***.

Re:Sounds like a crock ... (5, Informative)

couchslug (175151) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089407)

Crock, eh?

Mechanics have been WELL aware of the problems caused by ethanol (particularly in boat, small engine, and commercial engine applications) for many years, but mechanics don't make public policy.

The 30-percent mileage drop appears to be worst-case, but the mechanical and corrosion problems are very real. I don't own a boat, and I can refit my older rides with ethanol-compatible carb (Holley for the trucks and S&S for for the Harleys) kits , but the MILLIONS of people who own engines too complex to easily refit with pumps, lines, seals and injectors will be screwed if the ethanol content goes up.

I'll make enough dough wrenching on the side off this to update my late model vehicles.:P

Example problems:

http://boatingsailing.suite101.com/article.cfm/ethanol_fuel_problems_for_boaters [suite101.com]

May be the beginning of the end.. (5, Informative)

DavidHumus (725117) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089145)

..if this NY Times editorial is a sign of the times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/24/opinion/24sun2.htm [nytimes.com] .

Basically, it says that the ethanol lobbyists are fighting back against the EPA attempting to do its job by actually measuring the effects of ethanol as fuel.

Fuel vs Food (4, Insightful)

lobiusmoop (305328) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089147)

More than anything, this cartoon [imageshack.us] puts me off the whole ethanol idea. It still creeps me out seeing it again now.

Re:Fuel vs Food (1)

jmv (93421) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089279)

Great cartoon. Couldn't think of a better way to illustrate the problem. What's scary is when you realise just how much corn you need to fill up a tank (a few hundred kg IIRC).

Re:Fuel vs Food (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089459)

While that is to some extent true, it's a minor problem compared to the others. You don't want to use corn for fuel as it is terribly inefficient. You'd be better off burning the portions of the corn not eaten than turning it into ethanol.

On top of that even if it did work better than the alternatives you'd still have serious issues since it doesn't lower carbon emissions.

Re:Fuel vs Food (3, Interesting)

spydabyte (1032538) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089471)

But it's not Fuel vs. Food. The corn companies are not taking Corn that can be used for food, and the price of corn is not going up because of the production of Ethanol. Sugar cane, for instance, is being turned much more effectively into Ethanol.

The problem with Ethanol is that it doesn't work. It takes more Oil to produce and distribute Ethanol.

This is a clear case of lobbying on both sides. The scientific facts need to be gathered, which a commenter said above. I would argue that not pushing Ethanol R&D is destroying our chances for alternative fuel sources. Clean coal and clean air is the real solution, but destroying any R&D, even for a temp-solution, is definitely not a solution.

Re:Fuel vs Food (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28089587)

"It takes more Oil to produce and distribute Ethanol"

No it doesn't.

Ethanol isn't subsidised in Brazil. It doesn't need to be subsidised because it uses the parts of the sugar cane that can't otherwise be used and it contains more energy than the process used to create and transport it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethanol_fuel#Brazil

Re:Fuel vs Food (1)

Suisho (1423259) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089635)

If there was an switch over to Ethanol would the oil used in distributing and producing ethanol decease? Or is the oil being used in places where it cannot be changed over? This is something I've been very curious about.

First post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28089149)

Ok, what is the thing about first posts anyway?

Re:First post (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28089305)

Ok, what is the thing about first posts anyway?

You mean other than you failing it?

E85 (4, Interesting)

ensjoeski (209876) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089161)

E85 is garbage. Why do you think the government has to subsidize it by about 40 cents per gallon? If it was that good of a fuel, it could stand on its own. Corn / Farm lobby + enviro wackos = total failure.

Re:E85 (5, Informative)

DarrenBaker (322210) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089265)

E85 is actually a great fuel... For cars designed to run on it. The Koenigsegg CCX, for example, will run at 806 bhp in standard gasoline tune, but when you fill the tank with E85, you get 1018 bhp, no foolin'!

Ethanol is a really high octane fuel, which makes engineers quiver with delight, because they can predict, with much higher certainty than low-octane fuel, when and how much of it will detonate. Perfect for those tight tolerances in highly-strung engines.

Re:E85 (4, Interesting)

eln (21727) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089353)

I don't think the bone of contention with ethanol has anything to do with how good a fuel it is. The issue is what the trade-off is. Because we are using so much corn for ethanol, we have less corn to sell as food, which mean corn prices go up. Increases in food prices, and especially scarcity, tend to hurt the poorest among us first. As a result, we have food shortages where none existed before, and people that were just barely getting by are now starving.

In this month's National Geographic there's a lengthy story on food shortages, particularly how our ever-increasing population already demands more food than we can produce, and the problem is only getting worse. Without a revolution in food producing technology, we could be facing regular and ever more severe famines. Given this, is it really in our best interest to use our food crops to power personal automobiles?

There are better ways to produce energy in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way. Ethanol was an idea that sounded okay at first, but clearly doesn't scale, and we need to stop screwing around with it and put our focus into things that show more promise.

Re:E85 (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28089427)

It would not be a problem if the government were not messing with the economics of it all. I have no problem with a corn farmer selling his crop to the highest bidder.

In this case the highest bidder should be the food industry not the energy+government industry.

Obama should know better than most what the high price of food is doing to Africa. (I lived for any years in Africa myself)

Re:E85 (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089533)

It was a good idea when it was about using waste products and not just an extension to a corn subsidy. It's just like reducing emissions in general is a good idea but carbon trading is a complicated mess that is being tweaked to try to make some people rich and others poorer for no good reason.
Perhaps we need more agreement and less "carrots" to try to shape behaviour.

Re:E85 (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28089285)

Honorary mention to the sugar lobby. By blocking sugar imports, a few jobs are saved, and many more are lost as virtually all candy is now manufactured in Canada or Mexico (where sugar is only half as expensive). Other food manufacturers switched to corn syrup, which is subsidized thanks to the farm lobby.

Given the shenanigans that go on in washington DC, I don't know why anyone wants them more involved, in healthcare, banking, wallstreet, automobiles, or anywhere.

Re:E85 (0, Troll)

hedwards (940851) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089475)

Yeah, because allowing the rich to make those decisions has sure worked out well for us.

just tax carbon (4, Insightful)

gravesb (967413) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089173)

Stop the subsidies, tax carbon to account for externalities, and then let the market decide. The negative effects of biofuels have been on display ever since the Dutch dropped palm oil. Instead of the government pushing this obviously failed product, they should make sure that consumers bear the entire cost of their decisions and let companies develop a way to reduce fossil fuel consumption. And less biofuels means the price of my beer goes down, dammit! Won't someone think of my beer?

it's not ethanol itself (4, Insightful)

Knux (990961) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089175)

it's not ethanol itself, it's just the way US produce it... none of those arguments would apply to sugar cane. about the engines, brazil is using pure ethanol for quite sometime and it just doesn't destroy the engines the way tfa implies. if it's happening on US, maybe you should take another look at the auto industries.

Re:it's not ethanol itself (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28089239)

My car runs on both gas with 15% ethanol and pure ethanol. Our ethanol is made from sugar cane.

It used to decrease the life of some parts, engine and others, but now cars manufactured in Brazil simply have parts prepared to deal with the extra strain.

Most extremist arguments are just wrong. This is the case.

Re:it's not ethanol itself (1)

Xabraxas (654195) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089275)

I wondered about this also. My old man an my uncle were both drag racers using 100% ethanol fuel and I have never heard of ethanol corroding an engine but ethanol efficiency is crap.

Re:it's not ethanol itself (2, Interesting)

couchslug (175151) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089467)

Drag racers aren't going to let their ethanol sit for long periods.

Here's some info (note the comments!) on how ethanol affects small and legacy engines:

http://poweretblog.com/2008/12/industry-officials-nrel-federal-ethanol-engine-study-inconclusive/ [poweretblog.com]

Re:it's not ethanol itself (1)

Xabraxas (654195) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089505)

Actually it does sit for quite some time. There are fuel stations at the track and most are only open on the weekends during the summer, at least around here. If corrosion really is happening it is more likely due to the use of poor materials.

Re:it's not ethanol itself (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089513)

My old man an my uncle were both drag racers using 100% ethanol fuel and I have never heard of ethanol corroding an engine

The problem, as I understand it, is that ethanold *is* more corrosive, but it is possible to build the engine so that it doesn't have problems with it. Your alcohol dragsters were built from the ground up to use that fuel and so have no problems with it. Street engines are *not* built to handle ethanol and will suffer from it degrading parts. If you check your car manual, it most likely states that fuel used should not be over 10% ethanol. I remember when they used to state that fuel containing *any* ethanol was not recommended.

Re:it's not ethanol itself (1)

Xabraxas (654195) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089593)

The problem, as I understand it, is that ethanold *is* more corrosive, but it is possible to build the engine so that it doesn't have problems with it. Your alcohol dragsters were built from the ground up to use that fuel and so have no problems with it. Street engines are *not* built to handle ethanol and will suffer from it degrading parts. If you check your car manual, it most likely states that fuel used should not be over 10% ethanol. I remember when they used to state that fuel containing *any* ethanol was not recommended.

Only professional racers can afford to build an engine from the ground up. There are a lot of non-professional ethanol cars that use standard big block V8s with a SC thrown on top. They are not using exotic materials to build these engines.

Re:it's not ethanol itself (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28089277)

Uhmm the REASON it's destroying engines is because of design decisions that work for gasoline that DON'T work for E85. 85% ethanol as far as I've been lead to understand REQUIRES Stainless fuel system/valvetrain parts in order to avoid excessively wearing an engine (in addition to being conductive, something that may not be appreciated in fuel-cooled fuel pumps.) This, along with differing fuel maps is the reason ford/gm had seperate vehicle packages for 'flex fuel' vehicles for so many years, and why even nowadays not all cars can/should be run on it.

It's not simply a matter of being 'inferior' fuel for automobiles, it's a matter of inferior engines being forced to use a fuel they can't handle (much like trying to retrofit a gas engine block for diesel instead of building a much more robust diesel oriented engine from the ground up...)

He's right, ethanol is a scam (2, Insightful)

ifdef (450739) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089177)

Everything I've been reading suggests that ethanol has no advantages, other than for the subsidized corn producers. It takes more energy to grow the corn to be converted to ethanol than what you get out. You get lower mileage from running on a gasoline-ethanol mix than on pure gasoline. You produce less quantity of pollutants per amount of fuel burned, but this is pretty close to offset by the larger amount of fuel that you have to burn to go the same distance.

Maybe I'm wrong. I drive a diesel car that I run on biodiesel made from used restaurant oil, so I'm definitely not against biofuels in principle, but everything I've ever heard or read makes it seem like ethanol does not actually do anybody any good. Its only purpose is to make it SEEM like somebody is doing something, to make us feel good. But it raises the price of corn, and now, it appears, it destroys your car's engine as well.

Makes a decent turbo fuel (4, Informative)

DG (989) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089257)

Actually, the increased effective octane of E85 means that it is much more detonation resistant than pure pump gas. That means you can run a lot more turbo boost than you'd normally be able to get away with on a "street" fuel.

You have to increase injector size quite a bit to offset the lower energy per volume, but with all the extra air crammed into the motor at high boost values, the net result is a metric assload of power from a freely available fuel.

Making 500 HP out of a turbo 2 litre street motor is entirely doable running this fuel. I had to run 118 octane C16 race fuel (at $10 US / gal) to get similar performance.

DG

Doesn't that increase wear tremendously? (1)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089449)

How hot does the engine run with that much extra compression? I'd imagine it'd be pretty rough on the cylinder walls if you did it for anything longer than 1/4mi dragging.

I don't think it's beyond the realm of engineering or anything -- maybe we need to look back into ceramic composite cylinders, which I think was a focus of research back in the 70s or 80s -- but I'd be surprised if you could take an engine designed for 87 octane gasoline and increase the compression to what's optimal for E85, without increasing the wear pretty substantially.

Re:Makes a decent turbo fuel (1)

obarthelemy (160321) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089465)

this fuel is free ? me want !

Re:He's right, ethanol is a scam (1)

Metapsyborg (754855) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089267)

Your argument is false because you are addressing the wrong issue. Sugar cane ethanol is an excellent solution; corn ethanol is not an ideal solution because it requires much more resources to produce it than sugar cane ethanol.

Sugar cane not corn (3, Informative)

Metapsyborg (754855) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089187)

The only thing wrong with ethanol is that big corporate farms are subsidized to make corn ethanol. If the U.S. just allowed the importation of sugar cane ethanol from countries like Brazil, then it would be a great thing.

If you've spent any time in Brazil, you will see that ethanol is just fine for internal combustion engines. They've almost exclusively used ethanol for the last ten years. Now maybe there's an argument about "flex fuel" but that is just a transitional fuel type. Once we can import environmentally and economically friendly sugar cane ethanol it won't be a problem any more.

Re:Sugar cane not corn (1)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089349)

I think the point is not to import.

Re:Sugar cane not corn (1)

Trepidity (597) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089603)

We already import oil, though, without import tariffs. Why not at least import sugar-cane ethanol on equal terms? Either tax both, or tax neither.

Re:Sugar cane not corn (5, Interesting)

vbraga (228124) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089351)

I'm sorry, but your argument is bullshit.

At first, ethanol in Brazilian fuel is nothing more than a subside for northeastern Brazilian farmers, just like it is a subside for US corn farmers. It's not economically friendly. It's a more like a farming sweat shop. Northeastern Brazil is, by far, the country more backwards place. Workers live in substandard conditions and slavery is not really uncommon in poorest places.

At second, it's not environmentally friendly. Sugar cane is burned before being harvest. Particulates and smoke are really bad for neighbor population. Lack of crop rotation impoverishes the soil.

I'm a Brazilian myself and, obviously, new exports are always welcome. But not sugar cane. Let it die. It's just a way for the the country semi feudal elite to keep exploiting poor people, like it's being doing since 1500. Let the soil grow food. It's not a solution. It never was.

Think of the TREES! (1)

slashkitty (21637) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089493)

The big problem with the conversion in Brazil is the massive clearing of rainforests and the offsetting the natural intake of CO2. Unfortunately, taking on only one side of the problem creates more problems.

Engine damage due to cars that are not prepared (3, Interesting)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089205)

According to TFA, in many cases fuel lines or fuel pumps have been destroyed by fuel with increased ethanol content.

This seems credible because similar problems are known with biodiesel (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodiesel#Material_compatibility [wikipedia.org] ). But there are materials that can handle the ethanol, they just need to be used in new cars and eventually most cars in existence will have them.

The real question is how large the net energy gain from using ethanol actually is. If TFA's assertion that it is a net energy loser are correct, that would be a far bigger problem.

Re:Engine damage due to cars that are not prepared (1)

BikeHelmet (1437881) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089327)

How about Soy? Soy based fuels were first developed years and years ago. (I think by Ford?) Instead we're using it as a food, but apparently it's ideal for making plastics and fuel.

The thing is, soy is in everything. An unusually high percentage of the population has some negative reaction to it. Why not start using it as a fuel?

Ethanol (3, Insightful)

Neon Aardvark (967388) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089211)

It doesn't matter that bio-ethanol always was so utterly bone-headed from a thermo-dynamic and food-price point of view (and now this as well) - utterly wrong, right from the start, with back of the envelope calculations.

Some people can make vast amounts of money out of it under cover of doing the "right thing" morally (much like the war on drugs), and hence it gets government support.

Not news. (4, Informative)

rabiddeity (941737) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089231)

Oh, so using a fuel different from the fuel specified by the manufacturer can destroy your engine. I don't think that's news. Ethanol is corrosive to plastic and rubber. If the pumps are spitting out higher than 10% ethanol, the chain of responsibility is pretty damn clear. Sue the gas seller.

Anyone who has done ethanol conversions for internal combustion engines (ICEs) can tell you that the conversion requires replacement of plastic and rubber hoses in the fuel system with stainless braided hose. Obviously if the system isn't originally designed for more than 10% ethanol there will be problems.

But the problem isn't with ethanol per se. While it doesn't contain as much energy per liter as straight gasoline, that never stopped gasoline from taking off in favor of diesel's increased energy per liter. Ethanol makes fuel octane ratings go through the roof, which means you can tune the engine to run leaner under acceleration. Even running under boost you can often run leaner than 12 AFR with E85.

I don't agree with the subsidies from the corn lobby, but attacking ethanol because "it destroys engines which weren't designed to run on ethanol" is frankly a stupid tack.

Re:Not news. (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089495)

"Anyone who has done ethanol conversions for internal combustion engines (ICEs) can tell you that the conversion requires replacement of plastic and rubber hoses in the fuel system with stainless braided hose."

BTW that is because braided hose is available with Teflon lining (the braid is protective of the liner).
Ethanol-compatible fuel line of the ordinary type is available, but not at most auto stores.

Ethanol is mandate in CA (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28089261)

You can't buy gas without ethanol in California due to the CARB requirement that all gas meet oxygenation requirements. Ethanol was chosen as a substitute for MTBE due to the less-than healthy effect of ground water contamination from MTBE runoff.

There are numerous problems with ethanol as an additive, and it starts with the alcohol being corrosive to many plastic and rubber hoses and connectors. Aside from that, boat fuel tanks are comprised almost universally of FRP, and E10 will dissolve the tank and then the engine ingests the dissolved plastics. Not only does it corrupt the engine, but the exhaust products are pumped into the water behind the boat, leading to another environmental pollutant.

Of course there is the issue of stored energy as well. E10 contains about 15% less energy than E0. So, more trips to fill up, and more CO2 from distribution.

The big problem is, there are no other choices for oxygenate additives in California, and by extension MA, NY, NJ, OH, NH, VT, etc.

Ethanol was always a scam, even before Ed Wallace (1, Informative)

macraig (621737) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089273)

It takes more water, soil fertility, and work (energy, human labor) to produce the stuff than you ever get back out of it as useful work. It's a scam in the same sense that batteries and electric vehicles are a scam.

where's my fucking corn? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28089333)

I want some corn! Where is it? I need to have corn! Don't turn it into fuel, it's food motherfuckers!

Alcohol as fuel source. (5, Informative)

Volanin (935080) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089337)

Here in Brazil we have been using alcohol as a fuel source for years. When you go to a gas station, it is guaranteed that you will find both a gasoline pump and an alcohol pump. Most cars developed here since 2003 accept both fuels, using an engine technology called FLEX. The only difference is that the alcohol we use is called "Anidro", and it is 99.3% pure, while Ethanol is 96% pure (the rest being mostly water).

Based on this, to subsidize the price of the gasoline here, the government sets an alcohol mandate of 22%. So even if you have a gasoline-only car, you are really using 3/4 gasoline and 1/4 alcohol when you fill the tank. Since the alcohol does attack all parts of the engine that are in contact with it, engines produced for the brazilian market have a special protection layer. And indeed, owners of imported cars here usually fill their tanks with a special "premium" gasoline, that is basically pure and high-octane, to avoid damage. (Guess I don't have to say that gas stations rip you off for that)

Sugar cane (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28089345)

From what I understand ethanol from corn, which is the big lobby group in the States, is not an efficient process. Ethanol from sugar cane is suppose to be a more efficient, process.

I'm a bit skeptical... (4, Insightful)

YesIAmAScript (886271) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089359)

Not of ethanol, I'm really skeptical of it. It takes so much energy to make, I'm not sure what the point is.

I'm more skeptical of the other things listed. An E85 vehicle typically will run on E100 with no damage. The only real issue is that if you let the engine cool down, it won't start since ethanol won't vaporize properly in a room temperature engine. But it won't cause any damage, and merely putting 100% gas in the tank (assuming there is room, pumping out ethanol if necessary) until the percentage gets high enough to start the engine is all that is needed.

Also, ethanol doesn't reduce "gas mileage" (the words used in the article) 40-60%, it reduces FUEL mileage 40-60% by volume. This is because ethanol contains less energy per gallon. So consumption goes up, but what you really want to measure is energy efficiency, and burning ethanol isn't significantly less energy efficient (note, I'm not speaking of the energy required to make the ethanol, merely the combustion in the engine). So as long as the fuel is priced correctly and you have the space for the ethanol needed, it isn't an efficiency issue.

I do have problems with E10 ("standard gas") more than E85. With E85 at least you know what you're getting into. With E10, we are made to pay regular rates (or even more!) per gallon for the fuel even though it contains 4% less energy than straight gas.

For the record, I'm against a move to E15. We'll end up paying the same amount again (per gallon), while getting another 2% worse economy (per gallon). And it doesn't seem to decrease our dependence on foreign oil, since the corn used to make it is generally grown using nitrogen fertilizers made from petroleum.

I still like the idea of flex-fuel, but we need to find better wats to make alternative fuels before they represent a real viable alternative.

ethanol scam? (1)

hagnat (752654) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089381)

weird... we use ethanol over here in Brazil for a long time already, and aside from one crisis on availability of fuel in the past, we never had any problems with our cars. And we blend 25% ethanol into our gas.

Re:ethanol scam? (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089569)

> weird...

The story is horseshit. Ethanol derived from maize it not economic, but it won't damage engines.

i stay way from the stuff (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28089391)

i am lucky in where i live in a town of 13,000, 15 miles from B.F.E. we still have two gas stations that still sell gas with no ethanol(and proudly say so). from personal experience i lose about 4 mpg with ethanol added. Then there is my brother and friends who drag race 1/8 mile tracks they lose up to a second running fuel with ethanol added.
those two things alone where enough to make me swear off the stuff
 

My point of view from Brazil (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28089393)

I live in Brazil and my car, like most of the new (3-4 years old) ones, runs on both Ethanol and Gas. I only run it on ethanol because I want to be greener. A few facts from my point of view:

1 - Yes. Unless your car is prepared to use ethanol it will destroy it because it have water and that water will oxidate the tanks, engine, etc... But here cars not prepared for ethanol run on gas with 25% of ethanol.

2 - No. It's not an scam. We've had it for 30 years now.

3 - The carbon cycle of the ethanol takes carbon from the atmosphere and sends it back there. The petrol cycle gets carbon from hundreds (or thousands) of meters bellow the surface and it sends it to the atmosphere.

4 - Stop using corn ethanol, think sugar cane ethanol. Corn ethanol looks to me like it has been created to fail: it is not energy efficient as sugar cane's and it uses much more space than sugar cane's.

I think we are already late in replacing gas. But the few people that make a ***lot*** of money with it will do anything for us not to replace it. With ethanol there is no central organization controlling us and anyone can produce it, you just need land.

5 - Yes, I also think the food prices will rise. This is really a down side here. Sad.

DVHC

And his same government can solve climate change? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28089419)

Yeah, sure.

Always remember: taxes can and will be used against you eventually.

10% Ethanol (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28089481)

I just got 10% ethanol gas at Sunoco. I've been suffering from low/bad idle ever since. Just ran fuel system cleaner in an attempt to fix it. -_-

True sustainability (2, Insightful)

copponex (13876) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089489)

I think our society needs to begin to understand that all of the dense, useful energy they are pulling out of the ground took hundreds of millions of years to create. Wasting such a valuable finite resource is useful if and only if it is used to transition to an energy system that uses that day's sun energy to do that day's tasks.

The energy problem is quite simple. Stop zoning cities for cars. As soon as the economy is back in swing, slowly raise the gas tax and funnel all of that money directly into solar and battery technology research. Raise electric consumption taxes for all fossil fuel burning power plants to fund the construction of solar and wind. Build some trains that run off of solar energy sources on main highways. Connect those to neighborhoods with short range electric buses, bikes, and small sugar cane burning scooters.

last post (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28089501)

troll penis

That reminds me (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089529)

In June 2005, J. Craig Venter co-founded Synthetic Genomics, a firm dedicated to using modified microorganisms to produce clean fuels and biochemicals.

Ok, it's been 4 years, do you have any progress to show us or what? I mean, if ya gunna pick such a topical issue to found a company on, you've gotta at least give us a time line.

Looking at the web site [syntheticgenomics.com] it's pretty clear that this is still the hype that they're pushing... so where is it? 10 years away? 20? Is this the new fusion?

Just give me an electric car (4, Interesting)

77Punker (673758) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089561)

People in California were driving electric cars every day ten years ago. They were fast, quiet, clean, and reliable. They were also accessible to the everyman, unlike the Tesla roadster.

I don't give a fuck about corn or other combustibles. We could all be driving electric cars today if not for big oil colluding with government regulators.

Give me my electric car!

Re:Just give me an electric car (1)

Fantastic Lad (198284) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089649)

Yup.

That's how it is, alright.

And while back room deals are the back bone of this and every other corporate/government-born fiasco, the all-important element is that the majority of people believe the lies necessary to seal the deal.

Democracy will not work so long as Advertising does.

-FL

Re:Just give me an electric car (2, Informative)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089659)

Ya know why they were affordable? Because they were leased, at a loss, from the manufacturer.

Cant you just turn ethanol into gas (1)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089583)

Cant you chain ethanol together to produce gas? even if its not energy efficient (which i think it will be under the right conditions as dH=Tds +Vdp (i think dp & ds will be negative )), you can burn ethanol to heat the reaction (as its apparently useless for cars), or better yet use energy from nuclear plants!

Sure it wont be great gas but you can then treat it and use branching/anti-branching catalysts etc, at the end of the day a car doesn't give a shit where the gas came from as long as its mostly ~c8h18.

Cheap clean electricity is what is needed (just go fucking nuclear already), once you get that, ethanol (or even methane) can be chained to produce whatever plastics/ gas you need! (hell you can grow the shit in hydroponics plants, if the electricity is cheap enough)

Fuck fossil fuels (1)

marco.antonio.costa (937534) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089601)

I'm waiting for the all-electric stuff.

No oil change, no pollution from the car, no hassle.

Yea, and I'm pro-nuclear too. :)

The "energy loss" is a red herring. (2, Interesting)

tjstork (137384) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089627)

Every energy system that is used as fuel ultimately loses energy as a transport. It's just a question of how much. When sunlight is converted to coal and oil, over millions of years, energy is lost. When biodiesel is created, energy is lost. This is simple physics.

The reality is, whether or not ethanol is a "net energy" gainer is a red herring frankly cooked up by people who are pro-drilling. The only reason ethanol is taking a beating now is because gas prices are low again, but if they go back up to $4 a gallon, and they will at some point, then, ethanol will be roaring back into demand.

Whether or not engines are destroyed from it, only means that we need better engine designs.

YUO FAiL IT (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28089645)

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