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Transportation Technology

The New Ethanol Blend May Damage Your Vehicle 375

Hugh Pickens writes writes "About 80 percent of the gasoline consumed in the U.S. is blended with ethanol, primarily with a 10 percent mix of ethanol, generally derived from corn. Now Kate Sheppard writes that the Environmental Protection Agency has approved a new policy that will allow states to raise the blend to up to 15 percent ethanol (also known as E15), approved for use for cars and light trucks from the model year 2001 and later. A few weeks ago, AAA issued a statement saying that the EPA's new policy creates the 'strong likelihood of consumer confusion and the potential for voided warranties and vehicle damage.' AAA surveyed vehicle manufacturers, and found that only about 12 million of the 240 million vehicles on the roads today are built to use E15 gasoline. The EPA will require that gas pumps with E15 bear a warning sign noting the blend and that it is not recommended for cars older than the 2001 model year. But what happens if you accidentally use it? 'Nobody really knows what negative effects [E15 is] going to have on the vehicle,' says Brian Lyons, Toyota's safety and quality communications manager. 'We think that there needs to be a lot more study conducted to make sure there are no longer term effects on the vehicle. So far everything we've seen says there will be.' The concern is that repeated, long-term exposure could cause the higher-alcohol-content fuel to degrade engine parts like valves and cylinder heads — which could potentially cost thousands of dollars to replace. Gas station owners don't like it very much either, because they'd likely have to upgrade their equipment to use it. Nor are environmental groups big fans of the EPA's decision, arguing that increasing the use of ethanol can drive up food prices, and isn't the best means of reducing our reliance on foreign fuels. The ethanol lobby is the only group that really seems to like the new rule. 'We've force fed a fuel into every American's car that benefits a few thousand corn farmers and ethanol refiners at the expense of virtually every other American,' says Scott Faber."
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The New Ethanol Blend May Damage Your Vehicle

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  • by elashish14 ( 1302231 ) <> on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @09:30AM (#42386787)

    Politicians who make decisions based on the bribes they are going to receive, rather than what serves best the public interest causes people to suffer like this. This is why ignorance is one of the strongest poisons in a democracy.

  • by ericloewe ( 2129490 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @09:38AM (#42386823)

    The real issue here is that food is being used to make fuel.

  • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @09:38AM (#42386825) Homepage Journal

    In this case it's probably not bribes (common as that is), but politicians putting their corn-growing state before the country. Corn is not a good source of ethanol but it's great for the economies of states like Iowa and Illinois.

    As to causing people to suffer, the pumps are labeled. Put E-15 in your '69 Mustang and you're just stupid.

  • Irony (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @09:50AM (#42386863) Journal

    There's a lot of irony to this. For starters, the actual change in regulation by the EPA won't require E15 gas. It simply allows individual states to require it if they want. So in other words this is the federal government giving the states more control, which normally is a good thing. However there are states that are so influenced by corn production that they will certainly make E15 the standard in their state, but for all the wrong reasons. So it might be a bad thing for the Feds to give up some control here, which I hate to have to say.

    The second irony is this is the EPA making this decision, and this decision will harm the environment. If the valves and rings in older cars wear out faster from using higher ethanol fuel than they were designed for, then they will begin burning oil, vastly increasing harmful emissions. I thought the EPA was supposed to protect the environment?

  • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @09:54AM (#42386875)

    As to causing people to suffer, the pumps are labeled. Put E-15 in your '69 Mustang and you're just stupid.

    True enough, till they decide that not enough people are using the E15, and make it mandatory.

  • by Tridus ( 79566 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @09:55AM (#42386879) Homepage

    Corn Ethanol is the ultimate in greenwashing. It's not green at all. It's not even energy positive. We're not gaining energy here. We're just using fossil fuel based products to grow corn and turning the corn into an inferior fuel without any gain whatsoever.

    Shows the power of the corn lobby, but it's a disaster for the overwhelming majority of the population. If they want an easy thing to cut as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations, all ethanol industry subsidies are a great place to start. They're a total waste of money.

  • by Constantin ( 765902 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @09:57AM (#42386883)

    The percentage of ethanol is not just an issue for cars... boat owners have reported extreme issues with molded-in-place gas tanks where the fiberglass resin mix wasn't just right, which then led to the resins softening and dissolving into the gas. The resin juices then proceeded to destroy the engines in the boats by coating / clogging the fuel system and the chambers with this juice. Folks were allegedly going up and down the coast looking for gas stations that could guarantee 0% ethanol gas or forced to undertake a $$$ diesel repower of their power boats.

    It's not as if refineries are going to ship a different blend of gas to most ship docks, doesn't make sense, is a distribution nightmare. They're going to ship whatever they have.

    And here's the rub: The ethanol will also result in worse gas mileage because the stuff does not have the same bang per cubic volume as gasoline (i.e. 66%). Thus, the higher the ethanol volume fraction, the lower your vehicle's range is going to be. It's why cars designed to run on E100 in Brazil and elsewhere feature bigger gas tanks than cars designed for use with gasoline, for example.

    At the end of the day, the ethanol debate is one of the best examples of how lobbying results in extreme market distortions, i.e. the adoption of a fuel substitute at the behest of the corn farmers in the midwest and the large corporate interests (ADM, etc.) which profit from the processing and marketing of the stuff. Now that natural gas is too practically too cheap to meter, expect even more fuel conversion efforts of this sort.

  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @10:03AM (#42386895)

    This will only happen once a suitable alternative is found to keep running old vehicles. Washington isn't about to mandate a fuel 95% of car owners can't use. We had the same arguments when lead fuel was eliminated. Actually the very same "Oh but what about my '69 Mustang" arguments.

    Well here we are today, no lead in the fuel and a small additive on the market for owners of vehicles which required leaded gas.

  • A few things (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fermion ( 181285 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @10:31AM (#42387003) Homepage Journal
    First, any auto manufacture that claims they have no idea how ethanol is going to effect their engine is simply incompetent. The question is what will happen with higher temperatures and maybe increased reactions. This has been around for ove 5 years in the US, and longer in other countries, so the testing has been done. In particular US studies has shown that up to 20% is not going to harm the engine. So what we are saying here is we believe hand waving from lazy manufacturers over data. This kind of cognative dissidence is all to common around here.

    Second, no manufacturer is going to extend a warranty beyond minimum requirements. Can you imagine going to a dealer, after not changing the oil for a year, saying they would fix an unrelated warranty issue? Of course not. The purpose of a dealer is deny as many warranty repars as possible. So why would they say they would warranty a uncovered fuel that might mean even an additional warranty repair. Much better to blame the fuel even if the repair is unrelated. Of course flex fuel cars are warrentied to run on flexible fuels.

    Third, the issue with ethanol is really an issue with corn production in the US as our only crop for such purposes. Corn is about the worst thing one can use for ethanol, but the US has a corn economy. There are many weeds that can be made into ethanol, but little money has been put into developing that technology. Sugarcane can also be used, but the sugarcane economy in the US has been systematically decimated in the US by northern interests who value politics over national security.

    So it is clear that this is just another FUD article to promote the fossil fuel economy. Things are going to change, interests that have become fat and lazy on the backs of americans workers are going to become less fat and lazy, and this simply scares them, so they have to scare us.

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @10:47AM (#42387059) Homepage Journal

    There were MUCH stronger reasons to take the lead out of the fuel.

  • by ifiwereasculptor ( 1870574 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @11:02AM (#42387125)

    Nonsense. Brazil has been using E20 and E25 for decades. All it requires is some small tweaks.

  • by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @11:14AM (#42387197) Homepage Journal

    As several pointed out...this is a good example of the corruption you'd see in, oh, say, a Socialist country- because those central planners aren't even close to good let alone "pefect".

    Funny thing is that you don't see these problems in socialist countries. Part of this is that socialist countries tend to pass legislation that favor individuals over corporations, while in capitalist countries, it's the other way around.
    "Caveat emptor" is not a creed of socialism.

  • by Reschekle ( 2661565 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @11:25AM (#42387263)

    The environmentalists are actually against it

  • by lightknight ( 213164 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @12:13PM (#42387703) Homepage

    Then they need to scream a little louder about this one, because guess who is going to receive the blame for it? "Oh, we had to do the ethanol route! The environmentalists demanded it! It's good for the planet!" - part of being a politician is knowing who to blame, while collecting money for making the mistake.

    And while they're at it, if they could undo the NIMBY / anti-nuclear stuff, it would be much obliged. Yes, yes, I know they are now behind nuclear technology, especially when faced with coal and other fun alternatives...but the old propaganda from their fore-bearers / similar groups is still driving the people away from it, and it's really getting out of hand. Something needs to be done before people are so scared of electricity generating technologies, that they turn to burning forests for warmth. And yes, we are approaching that level of stupidity: "Nuclear is bad, oil is bad, coal is bad, but wood is a renewable resource! So, let's just light the forest on fire, and all our neighbors will be warm with us!."

    And before you say it, you know someone, somewhere will do this.

  • by slackware 3.6 ( 2524328 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @01:30PM (#42388445)
    ethanol may cause engine damage from water content in older engines
    Ethanol destroyes all the little O-rings in your fuel pump, destroyes your fuel lines and injectors. Ethanol also reduces fuel economy so yes it does hurt the enviroment by introducing more co2 into our globally warmed atmosphere.
  • by quintus_horatius ( 1119995 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @02:46PM (#42389089) Homepage

    Making ethanol from the corn is more energy intensive than distillation of oil into gasoline. For every gallon of ethanol you produce, energy equivalent to more than one gallon is burned just to distill it (never mind farming, ferilization, and transportation). Distillation is done with, yup, petroleum products.

    Ethanol is nowhere near cabon neutral, given the way we produce it. We'd be closer if we used cane sugar, but tarrifs are so high that it's not economically viable. That's also the work of the corn lobby.

  • by SteveFoerster ( 136027 ) <steve AT stevefoerster DOT com> on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @06:16PM (#42390415) Homepage

    In fairness, though, I can actually understand why people bringing out the example of the Soviet Union would annoy a true socialist, because as a libertarian it annoys me when people describe the system in countries like the U.S. as capitalist. It's not even close -- when the policy makers of a powerful central state cooperate with executives who run large businesses for mutual advantage, that's corporatism, not capitalism.

    (Because it's Christmas I thought I'd give you a real answer in addition to the sarcastic one.)

  • But then I guess when you are dealing with the "religion" of Leftism that is controlling much of the government, irrational things are to be expected.

    A quick tip (which you ought to have been able to pick up from the summary, for Cthulhu's sake): This isn't something most left-leaning people in the US support. Note where it says that environmentalists are against it?

    It's important to remember that not every issue in this country is one of Left vs Right. Many of them, in fact, are issues of Politicians/Lobbyists vs Real People. This is one like that.

    Dan Aris

The trouble with the rat-race is that even if you win, you're still a rat. -- Lily Tomlin