E85 Boondoggle Of The Day: Burn Baby Burn!

Richard Chen
by Richard Chen

For some time now, firefighters have warned of the challenge of extinguishing ethanol fires. Because ethanol cannot be piped due to its corrosive properties, large quantities are delivered by tanker truck or rail car. Pure ethanol can burn at a temperature as low as 55 degrees F (12.8 degrees C). Even when highly diluted in water ethanol remains flammable at higher temperatures. Since oceanic quantities of water would be required to extinguish a large ethanol fire, special retardant foams are generally used– but not readily available (= hours) to many fire departments. Even with that foam, a big ethanol fire can take days to extinguish; the holding tank often burns to the ground. (At least pure ethanol burns cleanly, leaving behind just water and carbon dioxide.) A NIMBY situation arose this spring in the heart of highly populated Alexandria, VA. (FYI, that’s communist country per First Brother wannabe Joe McCain.) Ethanol rail cars started offloading their cargo back in April 2008, but local fire departments didn’t get the appropriate flame-retardant foam for another month afterwards. There’s lots of finger pointing going on, with the city of Alexandria blaming rail company Norfolk Southern for slipping ethanol shipment in without notification.

Norfolk Southern claims that city officials didn’t communicate properly, and federal law allows railroads to move freight across state lines without much regard to local governments’ say in the matter. Needless to say, this matter has gone to court. So, what to do if you’re involved the unlikely event of an E85 fire? E85 is not as dangerous due to gasoline dilution, the flash point (temperature of combustion) being higher, but too should not be fought with water. Guidelines here suggest chemical extinguishers marked B, C, BC, or ABC.

Richard Chen
Richard Chen

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  • AJ AJ on Oct 27, 2008

    Think of the carbon footprint of those ethanol fires! Please, someone save the children! Really... unfortunately ethanol is not about solving our energy needs (if so, why the tariffs on cheap sugar-based ethanol from Brazil?). It seems that American ethanol is more about government hand-outs and vote buying in corn growing states (my own included), and as well taking advantage politically of creating higher food prices. Of course with oil prices coming down, it must be those evil oil companies in a plot to keep us all hooked on oil! Again, save the children!

  • Theodore Theodore on Oct 27, 2008

    The article doesn't say that Norfolk Southern is blaming city officials for failure to communicate, it says that city officials are blaming each other and themselves for failure to communicate. The railroad did what it was supposed to - it notified the city of what was going to happen. If the city was slow to take the appropriate precautions, that's on the city. NS should have been checking to make sure the city was doing its job - and they may very well have done so - but NS can't be expected to hold the city's hand, either.

  • Lorenzo Subaru had the ideal wagon - in 1995. The Legacy Outback was a straight two-box design with rear quarter and back windows you could see out of, and was available in brown with a 5-speed manual, as God and TTAC commenters intended. It's nice they're not raising prices, but when you've lost the plot, does it matter?
  • Bkojote Remember a month a go when Cleveland wanted to create a more walkable Cleveland and TTAC's 'BIG GOVERNMENT IS THE PROBLEM' dumbest and dullest all collectively crapped their diapers? Here's the thing- look on any American highway and it's littered with people who don't /want/ to be driving or shouldn't be. Look at every Becky on her phone during the morning commute in her Tucson, look at every Brad aggro driving his 84 month loan GMC. Hell look how many drivers nowadays can't even operate a headlight switch. You expect these people to understand a stoplight? In my neighborhood alone 4 people have been rear ended at lights from someone on their phone. Distracted driving over the past 10 years has spiked, and it's only going to get worse unless Becky has an alternative, because no judge is going to pull her license when 'she needs it to get to work!' but heaven forbid she not check fb/tiktok for 40 minutes a day.
  • Scott Shouldn't the The Italian Minister for Business be criticizing The Milano for being too ugly to be Italian?Better use of resources doing that....
  • Steve Biro Frankly, while I can do without Eyesight and automatic start-stop, there is generally less B-S with Subarus in terms of design, utility and off-road chops than with many other brands. I just hope that when they adopt Toyota’s hybrid system, they’ll also use Toyota’s eCVT.
  • The Oracle These are all over the roads in droves here in WNC. Rarely see one on the side of the road, they are wildly popular, capable, and reliable. There is a market for utilitarian vehicles.