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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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  • Recipe For Disaster? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @09:35AM (#42386811)

    Here in NJ we are not allowed to pump our own gas. That's right, we get Full Service whether we like it or not (it is very convenient on cold or bad weather days).

    Who is going to be responsible if they start putting this E15 into cars older than 2001? The attendant? The gas station owner?? The distribution company []??? If we get E15 it is going to happen, the only question is how frequently and will our astronomical insurance rates cover it?

  • big $$$ for ngk (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @09:54AM (#42386877)

    i have found that it generaly fouls sparkplugs, especially in stationary motors (generators -fixed speed)
    around 1/4 plug life.

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

    Almost. The real issue here is that topsoil is being used to make fuel. Corn for ethanol is grown continuously, which means not only do they not let fields lie fallow, but they actually don't even practice crop rotation! This leads to rapid depletion of the soil, turning it into dirt. What's the difference? Soil is mostly organic material. Dirt is mostly minerals. Soil can support plants we like to eat, dirt can't. So the corn for ethanol is basically grown hydroponically, in a dirt medium, using oil for fertilizer.

    Nobody is starving because we make corn into fuel. You think that they are, but there's actually plenty of food to feed them, going to waste. People are starving because nobody cares.

  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @10:09AM (#42386921)

    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.

    Actually in many cases the ethanol is added post blend of the gasoline giving refineries exactly that level of control. A station in some state wants zero ethanol, send them straight gasoline. If they want it blended, dump some into the tank before sending it out.

    Heck in some cases it's not even the refineries themselves which blend ethanol but rather the distribution terminals. Although there is a trend towards making refineries do the blending since they have an in house lab and if they certify the product they can actually hit the octane target. The alternative is having to hit the octane target without ethanol and then adding it after. Since ethanol has a high octane it results in giveaway (product better than spec)

  • by ericloewe ( 2129490 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @11:05AM (#42387151)

    Any energy gain would be similar to the energy produced by photovoltaic arrays, which have the advantage (over corn) of not needing fertile soil and water.

  • by TFAFalcon ( 1839122 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @11:05AM (#42387153)

    Just think of all the 'contributions' they'd get from the automobile industry if they did force-obsolete 95% of all cars.

  • by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @11:31AM (#42387315) Homepage Journal

    I'll be using E0 for as long as possible. A few stations still have it.

    Living where I do, between two states where all gasoline is E10 (because the politicos stupidly thought getting rid of MTBE justified it), the closest gas station that has ethanol free gas is 100 miles away. And they don't even have the octane rating I need.

    Yes, ethanol in the fuel is bad. Wicking and phase separation (where the alcohol sucks up moisture from the air and forms a sludge at the bottom of the gas station's tank) has stranded more than a few cars, and many a gasket has been eaten away too.

    You need engines designed for running on ethanol - in which case E10, E15 or even E85 is no problem. But what ethanol does is far more of a problem than the switch from leaded to unleaded was. Too bad many of us get railroaded and have to use it.

  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2012 @08:38PM (#42391189)

    Interesting conclusion by the paper. This is actually par for the course and can typically happen once a week at a refinery the size of whiting. It is the job of the lab to pick this up, and the fuel should have been independently retested after transfer to ship/distribution facility/pipeline etc. That's one of the reasons you typically don't trust the QA certificates when you buy oil / fuel. But it happens all the time. The lab sends through the certificates, a different department plans the load, and then operations lines up the wrong tank to the pipeline and you get off spec product at the other end.

    One of our vendors sent us a case study on a large terminal with 100+ tanks which suffered on average 400+ valve lineup issues each year. Some small picked up quickly, some quite bad. The ones that really cause a shitstorm is when you blend the wrong dye into fuel. So the petrol looks like diesel and then you send it to the other end without noticing and suddenly you have a tank full of flammable liquids which is not designed to hold flammable liquids.

    I can actually give you another problem caused in part by ethanol. It's hygroscopic. The company I worked for released standard unleaded to the local pipeline to send to a terminal, all certificates were in order and all specs met. When it got to the terminal it was put into a tank which had a water layer in the bottom. The ethanol absorbed the water and the terminal's laboratory failed the batch as not meeting spec. Shitfight ensued while both sides were trying to figure out what happened. In this case it was caught and not sent out.

God doesn't play dice. -- Albert Einstein