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Transportation United States Politics

Has the Ethanol Threat Manifested In the US? 432

Posted by timothy
from the think-of-the-corn-farmers dept.
Five years ago today, we mentioned here what was characterized as "The Great Ethanol Scam." According to the central story in that post, the ethanol in gasoline was (or would be) "destroying engines in large numbers," and the only real winners with a rise in the use of ethanol as a gasoline supplement would be auto mechanics. An increasing number of cars are officially cleared for use with E15 (15 percent ethanol), and a growing number of E85 vehicles are in the wild now, too, though apparently many of their owners don't realize that their cars can burn a mixture that's mostly ethanol. When I can, I fill my car with no-ethanol gas, but that's not very easy to find (farmer's co-ops are one handy source), so most of my driving over the past decade has been with E10 fuel. I seem to get better mileage with all-gas, but the circumstances haven't been controlled enough to make a good comparison. What has your experience been? Have you experienced ethanol-related car problems, or were the predictions overblown?
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Has the Ethanol Threat Manifested In the US?

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  • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @12:32PM (#47087689)

    My God, someone's after the BOOZE?!

    Well, scam or not, we can't have that sort of behaviour. It was bad enough when we ran out of vermouth, without this sort of nonsense....

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by BitZtream (692029)

      Yea, we need to keep our booze, slashdot has devolved to the point where timothy posts his own tripe to the front page. Doesn't even bother with faking it through other editors anymore. There isn't enough booze to deal with this problem :(

  • by indy_Muad'Dib (869913) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @12:33PM (#47087695) Homepage
    2012 honda insight runs the e10 fine but gets better mileage using 0% ethanol gas from the local marina, ive had to rebuild the fuel system on my 65 datsun van because of the ethanol eating the hoses.
    • by Austrian Anarchy (3010653) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @01:17PM (#47087943) Homepage Journal

      2012 honda insight runs the e10 fine but gets better mileage using 0% ethanol gas from the local marina, ive had to rebuild the fuel system on my 65 datsun van because of the ethanol eating the hoses.

      That is why as I restore my 1972 Charger, she is getting ethanol compatible gaskets and lines. Going with a six-pack traditional carb setup too because MPFI additional expense on a small block is just not justified.

      From the post above:

      I seem to get better mileage with all-gas, but the circumstances haven't been controlled enough to make a good comparison.

      The energy density of gasoline is higher than with ethanol, so the more ethanol you add the more you "dilute" the energy contained in a particular volume. One thing the ethanol seems pretty good for is cleaning out your fuel system. If you are in an area where they seasonally increase the ethanol you might want to change that fuel filter a tank or two after the swap. Also, a fuel drying additive is a good idea if you have any ethanol, because that stuff collects water like mad. Keeping the water in solution reduces fuel tank corrosion.

      • The energy density of gasoline is higher than with ethanol, so the more ethanol you add the more you "dilute" the energy contained in a particular volume.

        Yes; logically they should sell fuel at a dollars per kilojoule price, not a dollars per gallon (or Euros per liter). But of course they don't.

        At the moment E85 is cheaper than pure gasoline (avarage price May 2014 $3.05 for E85; $3.71 for gasoline), but since both oil prices and ethanol prices fluctuate separately, this can change.

        http://www.e85prices.com/ [e85prices.com]

        • Consumers can always factor that in if they wish. Other things are factors too, convenience of the station is pretty close to the top. People around where I live who say "they all charge the same price" really don't get out much. Find a different cluster of stations, and you will find a new price, which is not hard to do even in cities of 175,000 people.
      • by sribe (304414) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @02:32PM (#47088347)

        Also, a fuel drying additive is a good idea if you have any ethanol, because that stuff collects water like mad.

        You do know what fuel-drying solutions are made of, right???

        Keeping the water in solution reduces fuel tank corrosion.

        Which is exactly what ethanol does...

      • Fuel drying additive IS anhydrous ethyl/methyl alcohol. That's what alcohol does is dissolve the water. The problem is its also hygroscopic, so it will pull water right out of the air. The upshot is the ethyl in E10 can dry out the gas, but it can also attract more moisture. Adding drygas will do the same thing, you don't want either one to sit in your tank for a long time if you can help it.

      • by F34nor (321515)

        Putting e10 in a Stihl 2 stroke and pulling the cord voids the warranty. It is terrible stuff for anything that ins't your car. It absorbs water more readily it creates varnish in carbs and worst of all it is mathematically a terrible fucking idea. If ethanol was worth it the plants would run on their own product. So prima fascia it is a fucking scam. Look deeper and all that corn is made using diesel and hydrocarbon based herbicides. FUCK ADM, FUCK IOWA SENATORS, FUCK CORN.

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        Your 72 charger would be a LOT faster if you set it up to use E85. It's octane is as high as racing gas, so a lot of racers use it and are saving a ton of cash.
        So shave the heads and buy all E85 safe plastics and rubber for it and enjoy 13:1 compression and buttloads of power for dirt cheap.

    • by RJFerret (1279530)

      Those cheap jet skis you see for sale along the road have shot hoses from ethanol use.

      In the car, I hate the higher cost from worse mileage. It's awesome traveling to a different state (southern) and getting a full tank of gasoline and all the miles that entails.

    • by knightghost (861069) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @01:41PM (#47088089)

      Ethanol cost me $2,000 in repairs to my motorcycle and a lot of hours of work on cleaning out carburetors from small engines.

      Corn ethanol is an expensive way to turn good oil into bad gasoline. It was pushed as corporate welfare for ag stages. Everyone involved has always known that it was a big lie.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by JMJimmy (2036122)

        Sadly the stats don't agree with your anecdotal story.

        Canada has required a minimum of 5% ethanol in gas since 1999. Typically you'll see 15% ethanol. The percentage of original vehicles that have survived long term has gone up. Especially on the 12 years and up vehicles which the survival rate has gone up as much as 14%. http://www.fleetbusiness.com/p... [fleetbusiness.com] see page 7.

        • The summary basically amounts to "Do you answer leading question in the way writer of leading question wants you to answer?"

          Not that I think ethanol is the answer, but this summary is your typical echo chamber nonsense.

        • by gl4ss (559668) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @02:36PM (#47088387) Homepage Journal

          Sadly the stats don't agree with your anecdotal story.

          Canada has required a minimum of 5% ethanol in gas since 1999. Typically you'll see 15% ethanol. The percentage of original vehicles that have survived long term has gone up. Especially on the 12 years and up vehicles which the survival rate has gone up as much as 14%. http://www.fleetbusiness.com/p [fleetbusiness.com]... see page 7.

          why are you answering like that? fleet cars are _new_, furthermore cars have gotten better in the last 20 years, much better longevity than the cars made in the 20 years prior to that. point was that old cars need expensive reworks to fuel systems, which costs hobbyists a lot of money.

          even that wasn't the real actual point: adding ethanol is corporate welfare(for farmers) which makes ABSOLUTELY NO FINANCIAL SENSE WHATSOEVER. it's stupid, could just as well pay the farmers for nothing and skip using the energy for making the corn and refining the corn into ethanol.

          making the ethanol is not free and it just serves as a tool to create demand for corn so that the corn farmers don't go hungry - that's why it's % and that's why the only nations to go pure % have done so out of necessity(embargos and shit).

          • by gbjbaanb (229885)

            If you think 14-year old cars are new, I have a whole garage forecourt to sell you.

            Besides, old cars are there entirely for hobbyists to tinker with - so if they need new fuel systems, many enthusiasts will look at that with delight as as excuse to spend more money and time putting them in!

          • by JMJimmy (2036122) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @03:33PM (#47088655)

            My post was a direct response to the motorcycle comment, not the overall issue. However, part of the reason that cars have gotten better in the past 20 years is because of government regulations requiring ethanol. The manufacturers adjusted their manufacturing to account for this reality.

            As to the financial sense, it does make sense in the long term view. In the short term you're absolutely correct that, on the surface at least, it doesn't make any sense. Let me ask you this though: What happens when the oil does run out and these regulations weren't put in place? Car companies wouldn't have vehicles capable of handling the fuel properly, the amount of corn/etc needed for manufacturing bio-fuels would not be there, even if the materials were there the processing capacity & expertise would not exist. There are a lot of elements in the supply chain that exist for traditional oil that did not exist for bio-fuels. Some could be converted but that takes time - especially at the level required to meet market demands. It was never about the environment, it was a hedge against another energy crisis and/or collapse of the oil economy.

            • by gl4ss (559668)

              the cars in overall don't break up as fast and that's nothing to do with requiring ethanol. it's just that they're better. or rather they made really really shitty cars in the '80s.

              and what happens? well the farmers don't have gasoline to fuel their fucking tractors, that's what. which is quite the point.. the ethanol economy as it is in usa is dependent on the oil economy - it cannot hedge against it! all it does is _WASTE_ more oil.

              there's plenty of alternative ways to fuel the cars apart from using etha

      • by reboot246 (623534)
        Thankfully I can find non-alcohol gasoline around here to use in my small engines. Everything - riding mower, push mower, trimmers, leaf blower, chainsaw - runs better with no alcohol.

        The guy who owns the station where I buy the gasoline says that it's all he uses in his car and van. He says the increased mpg more than offsets the higher price.
    • by frovingslosh (582462) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @02:36PM (#47088383)

      I have a "new" 2013 Mazda 3. Ethanol is said to have 3% less energy than gas, but I've observed that when I use "may contain up to 10% ethanol" gas that I get a 10% or more drop in mileage($) contrasted to when I drive the extra mileage and pay more for "pure gas". So what that tells me is that I (and the planet) would be better off if the alcohol wasn't in the gas at all and they just sold me 9/10 of a gallon of gas for what they are charging me for gas adulterated with ethanol. I wouldn't have to haul the extra useless alcohol around, I would have more space in my tank for gas, and if we didn't waste food and energy to make and transport ethanol, the world would have more food and just maybe corn prices wouldn't be so high.

      In theory 9/10 of a gallon of gas without alcohol added should cost even less than a gallon of the mixed crap, since you would save all the costs of the alcohol. But in reality pure gas is hard to find and end up commanding a premium price.

  • by rmdingler (1955220) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @12:35PM (#47087703)
    For example: the dual fuel engines that can burn gasoline or methane, where because of the design compromises for the two fuel convenience, neither fuel operates at optimal function.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What are you talking about? It's been decades since you have had to redesign an engine for natural gas (and back then "redesign" meant replacing the valve seats). In fact, it's simple enough nowadays, the typical way to do it is to take a gasoline car, add the appropriate injectors to the manifold for natural gas, add a controller for said injectors (and possibly a spark controller as well), add tanks, then connect it all up. This permits the car to start on gasoline (much easier for those cold winter da

      • by AaronW (33736)

        In the 1970's my father converted his 1966 Pontiac Tempest LeMans to run on propane. The engine was originally designed to run on the "white gas" that was leaded 110 octane with 11:1 compression. During the gasoline crisis he did the conversion, also in part because the car ran like crap once the high octane gasoline was no longer available. The conversion involved putting in bronze valve guides, the tank, a converter that uses the engine coolant to heat the propane and the propane carbeurator which sits in

  • by Anonymous Coward

    but with motorcycles, ethanol has continually given Carbs troubles by promoting gas that gets all sorts of bacteria growing in it within a week due to the ethanol being a great thriving place for it.

    I hate ethanol and it ruins motorcycles really quickly :(

    • It also causes plastic fuel tanks to expand causing all sorts of issues remounting them after tinkering inside.

    • by Austrian Anarchy (3010653) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @01:23PM (#47087979) Homepage Journal

      but with motorcycles, ethanol has continually given Carbs troubles by promoting gas that gets all sorts of bacteria growing in it within a week due to the ethanol being a great thriving place for it.

      I hate ethanol and it ruins motorcycles really quickly :(

      Have you tried a fuel drying agent? The bacteria is growing because the ethanol absorbs water and gives it a medium to grow. Straight petrol products do that too, at a lesser extent.

  • by russotto (537200) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @12:37PM (#47087721) Journal

    It reduces mileage by more than it reduces emissions per gallon. But if it were really destroying modern engines left and right, we'd have heard about it, the same way we heard about ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel destroying truck engines.

    • by brainboyz (114458)

      As someone with one of those trucks destroyed by ultra-low sulfur diesel, it's true. If I don't include additive with every tank, I'm risking a costly injection pump replacement. Older injection pumps relied on the fuel as a lubricant internally and the ultra-low sulfur diesel doesn't provide that. Older trucks are either using additive, or have had a $1500+ repair to upgrade/replace the injection pump. That's more than some of those trucks are worth.

  • by BUL2294 (1081735) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @12:38PM (#47087723)
    I firmly believe that E10 is a total scam. Anecdotally, doing pure highway driving, I get 8-10% less fuel economy with E10 than E0 (pure gasoline), so what's the point? This has been consistently the case with the last 3 cars I've owned (V8 RWD, turbo I4 AWD, regular I4 FWD). Losing 10% fuel economy for the privilege (more accurately, the forced subsidy of corn growers in many states) of driving E10 makes no sense to me. Just water down my gasoline by 10%--same effect but water is cheaper than ethanol...
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 25, 2014 @01:14PM (#47087921)

      I firmly believe that E10 is a total scam. Anecdotally, doing pure highway driving, I get 8-10% less fuel economy with E10 than E0 (pure gasoline), so what's the point?

      Well, if you actually paid attention to the science, you'd realize that the point was to alter the tailpipe emissions from your engine, to the point where you driving your car, even if you use more gas in the end, will produce less pollution.

      Seriously, you could look this up in the law they passed. The math is right there. So is the research. Believe it or not, they did look at alternatives. But ethanol worked out.

      This has been consistently the case with the last 3 cars I've owned (V8 RWD, turbo I4 AWD, regular I4 FWD). Losing 10% fuel economy for the privilege (more accurately, the forced subsidy of corn growers in many states) of driving E10 makes no sense to me. Just water down my gasoline by 10%--same effect but water is cheaper than ethanol...

      Water wouldn't have the same effects that ethanol does. In fact, it'd reduce your mpg even more than ethanol, without having the beneficial effects.

      So no, no, thank you.

    • I firmly believe that E10 is a total scam.

      Do you firmly believe that enough to change who you vote for, and to convince others to do the same? If not, then it doesn't matter what you believe.

      Political parties in favor of ethanol subsidies and mandates: Democrat, Republican
      Political parties opposed to ethanol subsidies and mandates: Green, Libertarian

      • by JDAustin (468180)

        Corrected for you...

        Political parties in favor of ethanol subsidies and mandates: Democrat, Republican (establishment)
        Political parties opposed to ethanol subsidies and mandates: Green, Libertarian, Republican (tea partiers)

      • by hairyfeet (841228)

        If you believe voting has done jack shit in the past 30+ years? I have some swampland you may be interested in. Voting hasn't done shit since Ronnie Raygun removed the rules blocking corps from buying all the media stations in an area, between that and outright bribery the congress critters don't give a shit WHAT you think or want. Look up "study shows USA is an oligarchy" to see what REALLY happens, they get a cushy job as a lobbyist if you run them out and the next guy cashes check written by the first.

    • by sribe (304414)

      I firmly believe that E10 is a total scam. Anecdotally, doing pure highway driving, I get 8-10% less fuel economy with E10 than E0 (pure gasoline), so what's the point?

      FYI, many many lab tests on "E10" samples from the pump have found 15% ethanol to be very common in "E10", with ethanol sometimes approaching 20%. In other words, somebody in the chain of production and distribution cheats. (Now, imagine what it will be like when 15% is the "allowed" amount...)

    • by Sarten-X (1102295)

      Since this is Slashdot, we'll make a few assumptions: A car with a 13-gallon tank gets 26 miles per gallon of pure gas, which costs $3.74. Ethanol is $2.33 per gallon*, so we'll assume E10 costs $3.83 per gallon.

      We'll also pull in some facts: 1.4 gallons of ethanol has the equivalent energy to 1.0 gallons of gasoline. That means that E10 is 7.1% less energetic, which is why you're seeing roughly 7% lower mileage and a good amount of observer bias.

      From that point, we can compute that our car can be expected

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 25, 2014 @12:38PM (#47087725)

    Ethanol is a lose/lose/lose situation all the way around here in the US:

    1: The corn used to make ethanol causes higher fuel prices, either directly or indirectly because feed for livestock is up in price, so ethanol takes food out of people's mouths.

    2: E-15 voids car warranties, and ECMs can tell if E-15 is put in and throw a code that can't be cleared by a ScanGauge, but only by a dealer.

    3: Gasoline has a very shitty shelf life. I used to be able to store gasoline for a lawn mower for 1-2 years. Now, even with fuel preservative, even six months may be pushing it, and can clog up the carb or cause a bad reaction.

    4: As an RV-er, the #1 cause of generator malfunctions is bad gas. This was not an issue 1-2 decades ago, but when looking at a used motorhome, the first thing you have to do is rebuild/replace the carb unless the previous owner either ran the generator every so often, or fogged it, with OnaGard fogging spray.

    Then there is the E85 scam. It has significantly less MPG than regular gas... but the cost difference makes it not worth getting. The only advantage it gives is that with a Flex-Fuel engine that can adjust fuel/air ratios, it burns hotter so you get 5-10 more horsepower.

    If the US had plants like Brazil did that were by products of growing, I'd champion ethanol, but as it stands right now, people are starving due to E-10, so anyone who has a shred of ethics can't champion this.

  • Stupid (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 25, 2014 @12:39PM (#47087731)

    Corn ethanol is an EROI disaster. This is big-agra, some of the same people that ram HFCS into everything and spam tons of research trying to exonerate added sugar as the culprit in the obesity epidemic. Subsidize corn. We love it.

    "I seem to get better mileage with all-gas." You seem to have forgotten that the energy density of ethanol is lower to the point that aircraft will never under any circumstances use it. 42MJ/kg vs 30MJ/kg. Per liter it's even worse. You're not getting better gas mileage.

  • by NReitzel (77941) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @12:42PM (#47087741) Homepage

    The thing is, ethanol has a lower energy density per litre (or gallon, if you are metrically challanged) than does gasoline, just as gasoline has a lower energy density than diesel fuel.

    You get better mileage out of diesel than gasoline, and better mileage out of gasoline than ethanol, all things being equal. Laws of thermodynamics aren't to be bypassed. No amount of "clever" can change the basic fact that gasoline holds more energy than ethanol.

    However, and this may count for something for you, as it does for me, ethanol releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that was taken out of the atmosphere to grow the crop that led to the ethanol. There is no net increase of CO2, as there is with fossil fuels. Of course, a cynic might point out (and I might be one) that the carbon in the fossil fuel was also in the atmosphere at one time, to the tune of no less than 1500 ppm in the Carboniferous period.

    Using ethanol isn't for getting better mileage, it's for reducing carbon footprint, the amount of carbon added to the atmosphere when you go down to the corner store to buy a six-pack of beer. The beer, btw, doesn't add carbon to the atmosphere, because like the ethanol that's in it, that carbon came -out- of the atmosphere when the crops to make it were grown.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 25, 2014 @12:52PM (#47087775)

      The poor plants, having to fight continuously for every ounce (or milliliter, if you are Imperally challenged) of carbon dioxide that they need in order to sustain their very existence. And you begrudge them the potential bountiful feast of our releasing the pent-up food supply that lies underground, cruelly kept from the innocent plant life for thousands, perhaps millions of years.

      You plant-haters are all alike, every one of you.

    • by alen (225700)

      i thought it was to better burn the fuel to you know, get rid of the real pollutants like nitrous oxides and the rest of the bad ones that cause real health problems

      and not just anxiety for the blog readers

      • by snsh (968808)

        i thought it was to siphon money into corn-producing states in the midwest, states which are obscenely overrepresented in the US Senate.

    • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @01:02PM (#47087853)

      ethanol releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that was taken out of the atmosphere to grow the crop that led to the ethanol. There is no net increase of CO2, as there is with fossil fuels.

      So, how much fossil fuel is used to grow & harvest the corn? And then there's the whole "distill it" part. Not sure how much energy is used to distill corn liquor as opposed to gasoline....

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by edibobb (113989)
      You've omitted from your calculations the fossil fuels required to raise the corn and produce the ethanol. This is significant.
    • by sharkytm (948956) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @01:34PM (#47088043)
      Here's where your net-carbon-zero falls apart: It takes energy to ferment and distill the ethanol. Where does that energy come from? Electricity, mainly produced by coal, natural gas, and oil. So, your tying a food commodity price to fuel, burning coal to do it, and causing the resulting fuel to be less efficient. Ethanol in fuel is a lose-lose. The only reason that it doesn't cause fuel prices to rise is that the government is paying farmers to grow the corn in the first place, artificially depressing the price.
    • by KevMar (471257)

      I think people look at millage and make the wrong comparison. It's not about how many miles you get per gallon, it should be about how many dollars you spend per mile. My millage is not better, but I am spending less for the same amount of driving.

    • by sribe (304414)

      Using ethanol isn't for getting better mileage, it's for reducing carbon footprint...

      This is incorrect. The purpose is for adding more oxygen into the blend, reducing emission of partial-combustion products.

  • I seem to get better mileage with all-gas

    Not surprising -- gasoline has a higher energy content than ethanol -- 34 vs 24 MJ/L [wikipedia.org].

    So you really are getting less energy when you buy a gallon of E10 or E15 vs. a gallon of pure gasoline.

  • by confused one (671304) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @12:50PM (#47087771)
    ethanol contains fewer BTU per gallon (Joules per liter) than the mix of chemicals known as gasoline. (114k BTU/gal vs 76 kBTU/gal) You will end up with lower MPG using ethanol through pure physics. An engine can be designed to run specifically on ethanol with higher compression and different timing curves, which will result in increased efficiency and will partially offset the energy loss.
  • by FudRucker (866063) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @12:53PM (#47087789)
    because my pickup has fuel injection and the fuel lines and filter is capable of using ethanol dehanced gas, but my motorcycle which has a carburetor and my chainsaw, lawnmower and weedeater all get pure gas without ethanol, there have been too many people that had ethanol mix gum up carburetors and motorcycle enthusiasts are the most vocal about it, just google it
  • by morcego (260031) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @12:58PM (#47087823)

    Brazil is considered one of the world leader in ethanol, the country with the most successful alternative fuel program, one of the cheaper (if not cheapest) ethanol technologies and, by using sugar cane, one of the most energy efficient. All cars here can easily handle up to E40, and most cars can handle any mix of gas and ethanol. Oh, and the flex fuel technology for any kind of mix? Mostly developed here also.

    That all being said, I don't use pure ethanol. We are not able to find pure gas here, because of local laws (the government mandates the ethanol level), but I avoid it as much as I can. Even with everything we have in our favor here, it is still most expensive, and the overall car performance is not as good as with gas. For ethanol to be a cheaper option for the consumer, its price on the pump has to be no higher than 75% of gas.

    There is, however, another side of the coin. Gas is a limited resource. We need to develop alternative fuel technologies, and right now ethanol is the best, if not only, viable option. The technology is getting cheaper everyday, and improving a lot. As someone who saw the so called birth of the car ethanol, in the 1980's, I can see how much that changed.

    Last, but not least, gas with some ethanol in it does pollute less. I remember seeing some time ago some studies regarding E20(ish), and the number was impressive.

    All told, it is an important technology, it is not a scam or a threat, but it is still improving. Luckly, we still have the luxury to choose, so we can say no. That won't last, tho.

    • by alen (225700)

      is the US climate and land conducive to growing sugar cane?

      • by morcego (260031) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @01:17PM (#47087941)

        is the US climate and land conducive to growing sugar cane?

        Mostly it is not, unless you somehow genetically engineer sugar cane for different climates (some groups are working on it). The reason our climate and land are so conductive to growing sugar cane gives Brazil an edge, and is perhaps the reason it is more successful than a few other countries that also have a huge alternative fuel program.

        Corn based ethanol has less energy potential and is much more expensive. However, it is the only viable option available for the US right now. There are several studies involving kelp, sugar beat and castor beans that might benefit the US. Castor beans has a lot of potential. But it is much easier to pass laws and incentives for corn related programs in the US, for obvious reasons.

        • Brazil is also located in the tropics where as the US is not. You have the advantage of both the sun and copious amounts of rain. Both of which make it advantageous to grow sugar cane. In a roundabout way, your ethanol industry is nothing more than a transportable form of solar energy (with conversion losses).

    • by Solandri (704621) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @02:53PM (#47088459)
      Yes, there are two issues here which unfortunately many people conflate. Ethanol as a fuel, and how ethanol is made.

      Ethanol as a fuel is just a different fuel. It has slightly different characteristics and requirements than gasoline. But these can mostly be designed around. Using ethanol fuel is a technical problem, one which can mostly if not entirely be engineered around.

      Brazil makes its ethanol from sugar cane, which is actually just about the best crop you can use for making ethanol. It grows fast and has high sugar content, which can easily be converted into ethanol. Unfortunately, sugar cane is rather picky about where it grows, and only a few tropical and semi-tropical environments support it.

      The U.S. makes most of its ethanol from corn. IIRC, corn is down around #12 for best crop to use to make ethanol, so low that many question if its even cost-effective (costs more to make than you can sell the ethanol for) or carbon-effective (production uses more energy than the ethanol contains). Why does the U.S. use such a poor crop for ethanol production? Because during the Great Depression, the U.S. suffered food shortages. In response, the U.S. began subsidizing food production to insure there's always an oversupply (this is why we pay farmers not to grow crops - so their fields are available for immediate use should a disaster like the Dust Bowl befall a signification fraction of our arable land). Most of those food subsides are for corn, which means we always have an oversupply of corn. Most of it gets used as feed for cattle. Some of it gets shipped overseas as foreign aid. And some clever chemists figured out a way to convert it into high fructose corn syrup as a substitute for sucrose.

      Then during the Arab Oil Embargo of the 1970s, someone got the bright idea of turning that excess corn into ethanol. It's a great idea because otherwise that corn would've rotted in grain silos, feeding rats and mice. You've already paid for its production so it's a sunk cost - the fact that corn isn't an ideal ethanol crop doesn't matter because by this point it's basically free. You're going to lose the money you spent growing the corn anyway, so might as well put it to good use. So in the context of things to do with excess corn, converting it to ethanol is a great idea.

      Unfortunately, the Corn lobby then got its hands on it. Now we're growing corn for the sole purpose of converting it into ethanol. The economics which make corn ethanol work for excess corn completely break down when you're growing corn just to convert it into ethanol. Now the cost to grow the corn is no longer a sunk cost; it's a real cost which needs to be added into the price of the ethanol. This is the scam. Ethanol as a fuel is fine. Corn ethanol is a scam. Eliminate the corn ethanol subsidies and the corn ethanol industry implodes because it's uneconomical and uncompetitive with other crops. I hear sugar beets mentioned frequently as a better ethanol crop which will grow readily in the U.S. (they actually produce more sugar than sugar cane, just grow slower).
  • Ask Slashdot? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Fnord666 (889225) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @01:01PM (#47087843) Journal
    Timothy,

    Once again you have posted an "Ask Slashdot" article in a different section than where it belongs. Some of us regulate what articles we see by section and would appreciate it if you would at least try to get it right.

    Thanks.

    Fnord666

  • by NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @01:01PM (#47087845)
    <quote> I fill my car with no-ethanol gas, but that's not very easy to find (farmer's co-ops are one handy source) </quote>

    Priceless.
  • One of the bigger problems with ethanol is with smaller engines, basically any engine that is not moving people. Use ethanol free premium with a stabilizer in any engine you fill up out of a can. Most motorcycles too. My motorcycle is supposed to be able to take 10% ethanol, but I will only put that in if I cannot make it to a gas station that sells ethanol free premium.
  • meh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @01:12PM (#47087901)

    It makes your seals ware out faster, but that's about it. Most people drive around with half their seals and gaskets shot, leaking oil and getting crap millage anyway. So it's not like they'd notice. People that have no clue how their car works have a bigger detrimental impact on the environment than any fault in the design of cars. I see Chevy volts all around me now, yet when I pull up to them at a red light I can hear the engine running. Meaning they've bought an electric car, aren't charging it and driving around on the generator probably burning more fuel than if they had just bought a gas car. You can't engineer the stupid out of people.

  • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @01:12PM (#47087903)
    My parents took our Canadian car to Florida, which generally is not designed for E85. The mechanic showed me that it basically turned nearly every rubber bit into mush. There were many hoses where you could push your finger through the hose with not much effort. Luckily most of those hoses were available off a wrecker so for very little they just replaced every single hose. Where the mechanic was worried was what things like the fuel pumps or whatnot might look like.

    I have a distinct feeling that my parents car would not be the only Canadian car to spend time in the US.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jmc23 (2353706)
      That probably has less to do with it being a 'canadian' car (hint, they're all pretty much manufactured out of the same places) than it does with the age of the car.
  • Ethanol has a lower energy density then conventional gasoline. That's a scientific fact.

    Thus direct miles per gallon calculations with entirely different fuels are not reasonable. You first must adjust for the energy density of each fuel and then do a comparison on that basis.

    In my own calculations, I've found ethanol to be more expensive then regular gasoline AFTER accounting for the lower energy density. For this reason, I try to avoid it since it is not economical.

  • Oblig (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 25, 2014 @01:16PM (#47087931)
    YMMV
  • The guy who I take my lawn mower to tells me the Ethanol gas is damaging lawn mower engines. Not sure if the newer ones are engineered to burn E-gas, but the older ones certainly aren't. So you go out of your way to a marina to get unadulterated gas for your mowers.
  • The pickup feet in both tanks of my my 1992 F250 7.3 turned gummy and fell apart about the same time, I blame that on wacky fuel additives. Happened all across the country one year at about the same time. (The new blends don't reach the whole nation at once...) And the return lines on my 300SD started leaking at about the same time.

  • by slashmydots (2189826) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @01:27PM (#47088009)
    My parents' new car can take E85. It can be filled up a lot cheaper on that fuel but it gets exactly that reduction in gas mileage making it break even. So it's a wash except the lower chemical energy lowers the horsepower. So they don't fill it up with E85. It's a stupid idea and it's wasting corn and upping food prices. We need electric cars that are sourced by fusion power plants.
    • by Manuka (4415)

      And the only reason ethanol blends are cost-effective is the blending subsidies the fuel producers get.

  • I've got a flex fuel suv, that I do run E85 in from time to time, when I can find it. Even then, I will only typically fill up on E85 when its at least 20% cheaper per gallon that gasoline. Otherwise, you are paying more for less energy. I usually see a reduction in MPG running on E85, if its a full tank, usually close to 20%. With that said, if you are planning longer trips, through the midwest, E85 can possibly save you a little bit of cash in some places. I took the trip out to the Dayton Hamvention

  • The problem I find is it goes bad after 6 months to a year or so. Leaving a varnish like gunk residue behind. If I don't completely drain it from my snow blower in spring, and lawnmower and weed wacker in fall, the carburetors need complete overhaul and cleaning by the time I need them - the jets get clogged. You can see the crap in the carb bowl and tanks. Never used to be like this before ethanol.
    • This has always been true with plain gasoline. It does get exacerbated in some older equipment which pre-dates the use of ethanol in fuels. In some cases the plastics and seals can be damaged by the ethanol, with components of the plastic ending up in solution. Obviously these can precipitate out as the fuel evaporates.
      • It's far worse now, and you are right, my pre ethanol weed trimmer, all the hoses were destroyed , they just basically dissolved.
  • One of the benefits of being in Kansas (even in town) is that I can readily get "real" gas (both 87 and 91 octane) at my local Cenex station (it's about 30 cents a gallon more for the 87, about an 8% premium, than the E10 they sell). With the ethanol-free fuel I typically get about 20% better tank range on the highway in my 1997 Toyota Avalon (about 70-80 miles). Cost-wise, it's pretty much a wash, but I like not having to fill up as often. I don't have any qualms using E10 in the car if real gasoline isn't

  • Ethanol's got a lower energy density (less energy per gallon) than gasoline. That's chemistry and there's no known way around it, to deliver a given amount of power you have to burn more fuel and the more ethanol in the mix the greater the difference. I do see a hit to gas mileage, it's not significant for highway driving (steady high speed) but it really starts to show up in city driving (lots of stop-and-start, lots of time in low gears for power getting the car moving). Ethanol's also got an oxygen atom

  • But I tossed some of that fuel system cleaner in my car, which is mostly ethanol, and it took out a pressure sensor to some part of the emissions system. It throws a code and when its actually acting up the car runs a little lean, and I have to reset the computer and do a drive cycle before going into emissions testing.

    Id fix it, but you have to drop like half the ass of the car out, its expensive and the damn dealer wants like 800 bucks to do it, meh

  • It's my belief that bio-fuel research has been set back 50 to 100 years because of the prohibition on alcohol. I remember reading that the Ford Model T was designed to run on alcohol. It had too because getting gasoline was hard to do in many places.

    Back when the Model T came out the roads were poor. There was no interstate highway system to move large quantities of gasoline. Even if you could it's not like filling stations were everywhere, people were buying gasoline in tin cans at the dry goods store.

    What people could do is make alcohol. Corn was cheap and someone skilled to distill some moonshine was easy enough to find. People were burning alcohol.

    Then came Prohibition. These backyard stills were largely destroyed. Those that remained were hidden away and the alcohol was too valuable to burn in a car.

    I'm working with someone that wants to develop some technology to create some good whiskey. He called me asking some questions on how to make sure the equipment he was using was logging every drop of alcohol. Even though Prohibition was lifted we still have piles of laws on how we can make, transport, and consume alcohol. If this machine he is building can be operated in a manner that the products aren't logged properly then the ATF can come down on him hard.

    I'd like to see bio-fuel research just go bonkers. Let them try all kinds of crazy things. But they can't, the laws make it very expensive to start the research since pure alcohol is just as much a controlled substance as opiates.

    Personally I believe that bio-fuels is a bunch of good intentions that will pave the way to economic ruin. I will accept the possibility that I am wrong though. I am confident enough in my position that I proposed lifting any and all restrictions into it's research so that this question can be answered. Once we get passed the nonsense that is bio-fuel then we can move on to something that can actually work.

    Civilizations have ended because they were burning their food. We need to learn our lessons so we aren't doomed to repeat history.

  • I have a number of small engines ( 2 and 4 cycle). The local small-engine shop will cancel the warranty if you use anything but 100% gas. My Husqvarna chainsaw states, in the manual and in bold letters, to ONLY use 100% gas in the 2-cycle mix. It's out of warranty and for a while I tried e10. Ended up replacing all the lines and rebuilding the carburetor last summer.

    Luckily, there a several stations here that still still it.

  • by sdinfoserv (1793266) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @02:51PM (#47088447) Homepage
    I'm from a corn state and have posted on this topic before (see link).
    It's amazing driving through the country side and view the castles that have erupted on the plains. These palatial residences funded by federal corn / ethanol subsidies - aka - our tax dollars. Often paired with massive motorhomes providing winter escape in a level of opulence previously unknown to agrarian workers.
    From a pure energy perspective, ethanol has only 2/3 the BTU of gasoline.
    76,000 = BTU of energy in a gallon of ethanol
    116,090 = BTU of energy in a gallon of gasoline
    Even vehicles rated to run ethanol should expect a 20%-30% decrease in fuel economy. I personally have experienced this. I drove with a coworker in a 2012 chevy truck rated for e85. We drove a 200 mile road trip (1 way) on trip there we used ethanol, on the trip back we used gasoline. True to form the return trip experienced more that 1/3 increase in fuel economy.
    throw in the fact that ethanol must be distributed via semi-trucks and can't be piped (its too corrosive), it is usually distilled with propane, (an inefficient fuel in itself) and the reality is ethanol consumes more energy than it contains. Ethanol is a negative energy source. A Purdue university study came to that conclusion. Of course multitudes of ethanol funded studies have attempted to debunk that fact...
    http://slashdot.org/comments.p... [slashdot.org]
    to answer your question, yes, ethanol is a boondoggle. unfortunately lobbyists have taken away our choice and in many states we no longer can choose pure gasoline.
  • Is there a difference beyond buying high test? I understood that most gas goes through the same trucks the same pipes anyway.

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