USA Today: Ethanol Sucks

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

On the very day that congressional leaders (in some sense of the word) are squabbling over the next gen Corporate Average Fuel Economy ethanol loopholes, USA Today repeats a study's declaration that "Anything's better than ethanol blend E85, even ordinary gasoline." The Pardee Rand Graduate School's analysis of alternative fuels calculated the individual and societal costs and benefits of gasoline-powered vehicles, gas-electric hybrids, high-tech diesels and flex-fuel vehicles (running on E85). "Unless gasoline prices, averaging $3.10 a gallon now, rise above $4 and average $3.50 or more the next few years, or ethanol prices drop a lot, diesel's the best overall solution; E85's the worst." Pardee Rand reckons a (theoretical) E85 driver could spend as much as $1,600 more than a gas-powered comrade, while a diesel driver could save as much as $2,300. Hey, guess who helped fund the research? General Motors and Ford Motor. "They aren't crazy about the results," researcher John Graham admitted. Neither are we, until we hear what the researchers meant by "societal costs."

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Jthorner Jthorner on Dec 02, 2007

    " It should even be possible, if you are willing to screw around with variable boost turbos and the like, to build an engine that can switch back and forth between the fuels while avoiding a serious mileage penalty — a real flex-fuel vehicle. " A little higher octane cannot fully make up for the much lower energy content of alcohol. Yes, it can slightly be made up for with some version of variable effective compression ratios as you suggest, but not the whole thing.

  • Jthorner Jthorner on Dec 02, 2007

    "The majority of its cost comes down to transportation: it can’t be stuffed into existing pipelines." I know that transportation of ethanol is a big issue, but can you provide any substantiation for this assertion that the transportation costs are the predominant cost factor?

  • Virtual Insanity Virtual Insanity on Dec 03, 2007

    jkross22: Where we're going, we don't need roads...

  • Glenn126 Glenn126 on Dec 04, 2007

    jthorner, ethanol cannot go through oil pipelines, because it mixes with water (condensation inside the pipelines) and then it's a nice "margarine" mess when it comes out, apparently. Butanol (a 4 carbon alcohol) can be run through oil pipelines, and is virtually a drop-in replacement for gasoline. But, like ethanol, we do not have enough land to grow enough sugar beets to make sufficient fuel to take care of our current fuel requirements. But I've said it before - our future is not going to be "one" motor fuel, but many means of moving around. The oil age will be seen, in future history, as a unique period (assuming humanity survives, that is). Someone mentioned using old frying oil in their VW and taking me to task over my Prius about it. Well, sure, I'd love to be able to use used McDonald's oil, if I had a diesel, but frankly we all know there are only "so many" McDonalds and other restaurants actually around, aren't there?