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Friday, September 01, 2006
Consumer Reports on Ethanol

Grinding my "Ethanol and FFV mandates and subsidies are horrible public policy and not the answer to reducing fuel prices and dependency on oil and gas" axe.

The October edition of Consumer Report’s (published by non-profit Consumers Union) is focused on "The Ethanol Myth" and highlights the key shortcomings of ethanol.

CR Quick Take:
Despite the avid support of the Bush administration and major American car companies, E85 is unlikely to fill more than a small percentage of U.S. energy needs.

E85, which is 85 percent ethanol, emits less smog-causing pollutants than gasoline, but provides fewer miles per gallon, costs more, and is hard to find outside the Midwest.

Government support (read: mandates and subsidies - JPC) for flexible-fuel vehicles, which can run on E85, is indirectly causing more gasoline consumption rather than less.

Consumer Reports' E85 tests show that you’ll get cleaner emissions but poorer fuel economy ... if you can find it.

Most ethanol is being blended in a 10 percent mix to reduce smog-producing emissions and stretch gasoline supplies.

The Bush administration has been pushing ethanol as a renewable, homegrown alternative to gasoline. Now, the auto industry is abuzz with the promise of its flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs), which are designed to run on either gasoline or the blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline called E85.

GM’s advertising says, “Energy independence? The answer may be growing in our own backyard,” and has coined the slogan “Live green, go yellow,” referring to the corn from which most U.S. ethanol is made. DaimlerChrysler, Ford, and GM have said that they plan to double production of FFVs and other biofuel vehicles to 2 million by 2010.

A recent Harris Interactive study of vehicle owners found that more than half were interested in purchasing an FFV, mostly for reduced dependency on petroleum and improved fuel economy.

But after putting a 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe FFV through an array of fuel economy, acceleration, and emissions tests, and interviewing more than 50 experts on ethanol fuel, CR determined that E85 will cost consumers more money than gasoline and that there are concerns about whether the government’s support of FFVs is really helping the U.S. achieve energy independence.
Among our findings:

· The fuel economy of the Tahoe dropped 27 percent when running on E85 compared with gasoline, from an already low 14 mpg overall to 10 mpg (rounded to the nearest mpg). This is the lowest fuel mileage we’ve gotten from any vehicle in recent years.

· With the retail pump price of E85 averaging $2.91 per gallon in August, according to the Oil Price Information Service, which tracks petroleum and other fuel prices, a 27 percent fuel-economy penalty means drivers would have paid an average of $3.99 for the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline.·

· When we calculated the Tahoe’s driving range, we found that it decreased to about 300 miles on a full tank of E85 compared with about 440 on gasoline. So you have to fill up more often with E85.

· The majority of FFVs are large vehicles like the Tahoe that get relatively poor fuel economy even on gasoline. So they will cost you a lot at the pump, no matter which fuel you use.

· Because E85 is primarily sold in the upper Midwest, most drivers in the country have no access to the fuel, even if they want it. For our Tahoe test, for example, we had to blend our own.

· The FFV surge is being motivated by generous fuel-economy credits that auto-makers get for every FFV they build, even if it never runs on E85. This allows them to pump out more gas-guzzling large SUVs and pickups, which is resulting in the consumption of many times more gallons of gasoline than E85 now replaces.

We put the Tahoe through our full series of fuel-economy and acceleration tests while running on each fuel (see our test results). When running on E85 there was no significant change in acceleration. Fuel economy, however, dropped across the board. In highway driving, gas mileage decreased from 21 to 15 mpg; in city driving, it dropped from 9 to 7 mpg.

You could expect a similar decrease in gas mileage in any current FFV. That’s because ethanol has a lower energy content than gasoline: 75,670 British thermal units per gallon instead of 115,400, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. So you have to burn more fuel to generate the same amount of energy. In addition, FFV engines are designed to run more efficiently on gasoline. E85 fuel economy could approach that of gasoline if manufacturers optimized engines for that fuel.

When we took our Tahoe to a state-certified emissions-test facility in Connecticut and had a standard emissions test performed, we found a significant decrease in smog-forming oxides of nitrogen when using E85. Ethanol, however, emits acetaldehyde, a probable carcinogen and something that standard emissions-testing equipment is not designed to measure. But that might be a relatively minor evil. “Acetaldehyde is bad,” says James Cannon, president of Energy Futures, an alternative-transportation publication, “but not nearly as bad as some of the emissions from gasoline.” (as if Cannon) would have responded any other way? - JPC)

My personal car only runs on gas, but my government car( aka G-jet), is a flex fuel. I almost always run it on E85 as it is available just down the street from my office. It is true that it burns quicker then gasoline. I have noticed about 1/8 to a 1/4 tank less then on a tank of gas. I don't use the stuff becasue I care about the enviroment, or in an attempt to save the government money. I use it to seperate myself from our dependency on the enemy in the middle east. If every car in the USA ran on the stuff, would the effect on the middle east not be significant? Look at Brasil, thier conversion to it is almost complete, and there dependency on foriegn oil does not exist.
I think law should mandate its availability. The prices might drop if there were more then 100 retailers. Walmart is talking about offering it at all its fuel locations.
Oh, and it may not make a giant car get up and goe, but my acceleration is better on the corn juice.
I think your interest in reducing dependancy on foreign oil is valid and admirable. But ethanol is truly a bad alternative and a poor public policy choice. We can do much better with the newer hybrid technologies or by adjusting CAFE standards and should do so before mandating a horrible fuel and creating more handouts to farmers and Archer Daniels Midland.

The Brazil model shouldn't be considered seriously. In truth, it took them over 30 years of mandates and ethanol system still is rather small. In fact, they just reduced their requirement from 25% to 20% due to increased cost of sugar on the global market. Most of their energy independance came as a result of an increased cost in offshore oil production (something that we barely allow) - their offshore production increased by 9 TIMEs (900%) between 2001 and now.
When I am given an alternative to ethanol I will consider it. I am a simple man, and I have met the enemy, and I will do whatever I can to avoid buying their product. If this means giving farmers handouts, so be it. If it means more smog, so be it. If I got 50% less milage , I would still use it. My point is, if it is not from the middle east it is a better alternative, screw costs.

Oil from coal? Shale? Biodiesel?

My home heating oil offer for this year is $2.65 a gallon. $2.65?
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