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Agriculture Today

Ethanol can lead to numerous problems

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Jeff Deines
On The Road Again
February 8, 2012 | 4,531 views | Post a comment

A few years back, my pickup truck lost about 10 percent in fuel efficiency. Of course I wanted to know if something was going wrong, so the usual maintenance items were checked, including filters, air in the tires, etc.

About this time, I heard complaints from other folks and realized the loss came at a time when the government started forcing gasoline distributors to blend in 10-percent ethanol, or alcohol, into our gas. I’m always skeptical when these federal mandates come down the line, and I’m truly surprised Congress didn’t have a “special” pump behind the White House, pumping pure gas for their personal use. You know the drill, mandate something stupid and exempt yourselves from it.

From time to time I’d hear something negative about ethanol, so I figured it was time to do research on the matter. My findings were worse than anticipated, but I’m not surprised in the least. It seems the government spends about $5 billion a year (our money, not theirs) subsidizing ethanol in an attempt to reduce pollution, consumption, and foreign dependency on oil. I agree that all these things are wonderful, if indeed the program works. It doesn’t.

Ethanol may produce a bit less carbon dioxide when it is burned, but emits more toxic ozone in its place, which is worse. Ethanol is produced from corn, now using about 25 percent of all corn grown in this country for its production, which, of course, drives food prices up dramatically. This corn must be fertilized and watered, harvested, and shipped. The water run-off from the fertilizer is doing damage to the water sources, and the production once the corn is at the plant is powered by coal, which, of course, pollutes the air, as well as produces some nasty by-products. Tilling the land, harvesting, and shipping all burn up diesel fuel, as well.

Experts in the field say we burn 1.3 gallons of oil trying to produce one gallon of ethanol. In fact, if it weren’t for the subsidies, ethanol would cost a dollar a gallon more than gasoline to produce. And if the last few sentences sounded like I was hammering on the farmers, nothing could be further from the truth. Using fuel throughout the growing/harvesting process is just a necessary expense, and I never talk about farmers with my mouth full.

And about that $5 billion for the subsidies? It doesn’t go to the farmers; it goes to the oil companies at a rate of 45 cents for every gallon they produce, currently 13 billion gallons a year -- which is going up to 36 billion by the year 2022.

So we’re saving 10 percent of a natural resource, gas, on every gallon, right? Not so. This goes back to the top of the column where I wondered what happened to my fuel mileage. If you add 10-percent ethanol to gas, you lose 10 percent in fuel mileage. That’s right, and if you add 40-percent ethanol, you lose 40 percent of your fuel mileage.

Interestingly, if you had 100-percent ethanol, the car would not run at all. Even though it is flammable, there isn’t enough energy in it to run the engine. So really, the stuff is a “filler” snake oil that does nothing positive so far. But wait, it gets better. The government is trying to add another 5 percent into gasoline as I write this, without taking any time to see if it would have adverse effects on your vehicle, and it does.

A lot of car and small-engine owners have had a mess on their hands with this vile fuel “alternative.” Fifteen percent ethanol-laced gas is already being sold under the name “E85,” supposedly to car owners who drive “flex-fuel” vehicles. These flex-fuel engines are designed to withstand the harsh conditions created by this “rot-gut” fuel. What harsh conditions, you ask?

Ethanol attracts moisture, which can cause separation and formation of acids in your fuel system. These acids can eat plastic components and dissolve fiberglass. Car companies, such as Lexus, have recalled certain models because of fuel rails being eaten up from the inside out, and other car manufacturers have had a whole host of trouble as well. In fact, if you experience a gas-related failure, such as a failed fuel pump for example, and the gas in the tank is tested and comes up more than 10-percent ethanol in a non-flex-fuel car, they have the right not to cover the repair under warranty. They are calling the condition “ethanol poisoning.”

Boats with fiberglass fuel tanks, and small engines such as weedeaters and lawn mowers that do not see regular use are even more susceptible to damage. Shops report an influx of fuel-related repairs and expect it to get worse. Mower shops are now selling non-ethanol gasoline in 5-gallon pails for about $9 a gallon, and people are paying it because it is cheaper than buying a new carburetor. I have four pails in the shop as we speak.

Interestingly enough, the Senate, which hasn’t passed a budget since 2008, was looking into reducing or eliminating the ethanol subsidies last June, but decided to keep the funding in a vote of 40-59. It seems they just don’t get it -- as usual.

Send your vehicle maintenance questions to Jeff Deines. Email nkilbey-smith@wcn-online, putting “OTRA Question” in the subject line.

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