By on December 31, 2008

Never let it be said that TTAC doesn’t kick a bad idea when it’s down. (It’s the best way to make sure it stays down.) Obviously, it’s no secret that myself and several members of TTAC’s crack (smoking) freelance team consider E85 the biggest boondoggle outside of the Motown meltdown boondoggle. Corn juice for fuel is a fundamentally flawed concept on environmental, energy, practical and even a geo-political basis. But even as the U.S. ethanol customers line-up none deep for their chance to prove that “no one ever died defending a corn field,” even as the ethanol industry continues to block cheap E85 imports from Brazil, even as the major players suck-up to Uncle Sugar to secure a $1b bailout (no really) to stay alive in a business where they already enjoy a .50 a gallon “blender’s credit” and a federal requirement for someone somewhere to use the stuff (a.k.a. the 36b gallon by 2020 Renewable Fuels Standard), they’re shifted gears to open a second front in their war against common sense. AG Week reports that the push for a federal mandate to raise the ethanol content in regular gas from E10 to E15 (and beyond) continues apace.

Yes, the ethanol industry is crying that they’re up against the “blend wall” (MFer).

“Most notable of those obstacles is an EPA regulation stating that gasoline intended for use by nonflex-fuel vehicles cannot be blended with more than 10 percent ethanol. By not allowing greater percentages of ethanol to be blended with gasoline, more ethanol will be produced than can legally be distributed, and therefore consumed, creating what has been termed a “blend wall.” Hitting this blend wall would effectively bring industry growth to a standstill and significantly undermine the progress we have made in establishing renewable biofuels as a critical component in our country’s diverse energy portfolio. Additionally, the blend wall’s effect on the ethanol industry would adversely impact efforts to develop promising advanced biofuels like cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel.”

So no cellulosic unless you buy our GD E85? Bummer. Now, about that “other” bailout…

“Many objections have been raised in response to calls for increasing the amount of ethanol than can be blended with gasoline, many coming from the U.S. automobile industry. However, at a time when the U.S. auto industry is requesting federal assistance from Congress, I think any aid should not only contain significant taxpayer protections, but also require serious and bold steps on behalf of the automakers to help our country move toward greater energy independence.

“That’s why I recently wrote Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank requesting that to access federal financing, U.S. automakers should: Redouble their commitment to meet or exceed fuel economy standards set for them by Congress; agree not to place unfounded warranty objections in the way of the widespread adoption of mid-range ethanol blends such as E15 for use in standard vehicles; and transform their aspirational goal for the production of flex-fuel vehicles — 50 percent of production by 2012 — to a hard and enforceable goal of reaching that level by 2012 or earlier.”

What happened to the days when companies made money by offering better products and services?

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21 Comments on “E85 Boondoggle of the Day: Ethanol Industry Hits the “Blend Wall,” Calls for E15– and Beyond!...”

  • avatar

    my civic won’t even take E15 according to the manual (and I make it a point to not even let it drink E10 right now). what exactly do the blenders plan to do? buy us all new fuel pumps at the same time and ask for more bailouts?

  • avatar

    I have heard rumors that “marine” gasoline sold at dockside doesn’t contain any ethanol at all, due to its complete inability to cooperate with water. I need to try this, as my old-ass Triumph single simply will not run right on E10. I don’t care who says what, there is not as much energy in ethanol as there is in gasoline.

  • avatar

    @cwallace, most marine fuels don’t contain ethanol because boat makers don’t use ethanol-friendly fuel pumps. if you can’t find non-E10 gas at regular stations, ask your local dockside pump operator and they’ll usually have regular petrol.

  • avatar

    Cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel are promising as long as they’re not feed from edible crops, but from hardwood waste etc, and definitely not from forest clearing like in Indonesia.

    There’s a cellulosic program running in Australia, but manufacturers are being asked only to plan for E10 at best.

    A drop off in investment/research into alternate energy is definitely something Obama should be avoiding.

    Have you heard what the new Obama energy secretary Steven Chu has said about lobbyists? “Assign the job to the engineers, instead of to the lobbyists.” In other words, offer better products and services.

  • avatar

    Corn farming is completely automated and dominated by corporate farmers. It does nothing to help employment. Subsidizing it is basically reverse Robinhood, stealing from the poor to give to the rich.

    Instead of Congress adding to the perversion of the farming industry with additional ethanol subsidies, Congress should remove one of the restrictions that it puts on American farmers and allow them to grow industrial hemp. It is legal to purchase here, but not to grow, a very anti-US trade policy. States as crazy as Montana, North Dakota and Virginia have passed resolutions requesting the ability to grow industrial hemp.

    If cellulosic ethanol does become feasible it will be because of government and university research, not because of one of the money grabbing companies cashing out on the subsidies.

  • avatar

    I still say that we are backing the wrong horse when it comes to domestic biofuels.

    IMHO Bio-Diesel is superior to ethanol in almost every regard.

    It has only a slight fuel economy penalty and it is actually better than the ultra low sulfur Petro-Diesel from an engine wear perspective.

  • avatar

    E10 is death for small outboard motors, because the fuel tanks tend to be in high moisture area’s (boats) the fuel with alcohol is good for a few weeks at best, folks who use their outboard, snowmobile, chain saws, jetski etc. only occasionally are well advised to buy super (no alcohol)at regular gas stations or regular petrol at their local marina($$). This doesn’t even address the performance loss or energy per liter issues or even the warranty problems. The whole thing is a scam, thank you Al Gore. This guy would of been less dangerous as president.

  • avatar

    The whole thing is a scam, thank you Al Gore. This guy would of been less dangerous as president.

    I think we could blame the Iraq mess on him. He’s the reason I held my nose and voted for Bush. I couldn’t believe someone would make some of the statements Gore did while running for office. Then when he lost, it got even worse as he tried to remain in, or at least near, the spotlight.

    It seems the people in the ethanol industry saw only the government subsidies and didn’t bother to look at the actual market for ethanol before they entered it. Now they wany me to pay for their poor business decision?! Sounds eerily familiar.

  • avatar

    I have to agree with RedStapler about backing the wrong horse – ethanol – in the biofuel race.

    Biodiesel will at least keep us alive if the arabs, russians, venezuelans and others turn off the oil coming to the US as the arabs did in 1973 (not coincidentally, that was also a time when the arabs wanted genocide against the jews and we backed our friends instead of murderers/genocidists).

    Of course, the powers that be in THIS country – the USA – have screwed up majorly in allowing us to get to the point where we “must” import 2/3 of our energy.

    To put it succinctly, our enemies have us not only by the short & curlies but what the short & curlies are surrounding, as well. And they have sharp knives. In hand. Poised.

    SO….. what use will pure ethanol be when we have insufficient diesel oil to run tractors AND run big rigs to deliver food to the cities?

    Quite right – we have grown the wrong crops, made the wrong biofuel plants, backed the wrong horse – AGAIN.

    Of course, we could have elected a non-politician type for President (and all other political offices), you know, folks with common sense and brains – but then again, why change now? Ron Paul was ignored. The Libertarian Party was ignored. The Constitutional Party was ignored.

    So, we’ll be getting the government we deserve, we’ll be getting the (mis)fuelling we deserve for our gasoline cars, and we’ll have to live with the consequences of both, eh?

    BTW I can’t tell you how I know this, but I can tell you that many if not most marinas are simply selling E10 instead of gasoline.

    Even in areas where you don’t have “clean fuel mandates” (i.e. requiring E10 or ethanol blends), virtually all gasoline sold for vehicle use (excepting avgas) has some ethanol in it. Avgas cannot legally be used in cars, boats (and it’ll bugger them up if you do – had a pal who screwed up his classic ’73 Porsche 911 that way).

    I can also tell you that if you have a built in fiberglass fuel tank in a classic boat, you are going to be wanting to dock it and not use it since the ethanol blends will literally melt your fuel tank, you’ll end up with fuel in your bilge, and your life will be at risk. Our esteemed government does not care about our “toys” (classic boats) – whether they be worth $500,000 or $5000.

    As for classic cars, I can’t tell you how or why I know this but – shall we say many thousands of classic car owners are having lots of issues with ethanol blends in fuels.

    Suffice to say that vehicles built before about 1984 are not really intended for use with ethanol blends, and this is especially so with cars built before about 1974.

    Our esteemed government does not care about our toy cars, whether they be $500,000 Tuckers or $5000 Valiants, however.

    In a side note, I can also tell you that ethanol blends are disasterously bad for small engines, and that snow blowers, lawn mowers, weed whackers and many if not (eventually) all small engines are going to have major problems with this misfuelling issue.

    Because that is what it is – misfuelling.

    I’ll put it another way. If anyone EXCEPT the government “demanded” that you misfuel your vehicle, the government would probably find some way to bring the law down on their heads to make them stop.

  • avatar

    I am going to go out on a limb and say that all vehicles for transportation should run on electricity. Petroleum should be reserved for feedstock. Few people realize that for every barrel of oil, half of that barrel is used for making products. Just about everything we consume or use has a petroleum based component, from clothes to pharmaceuticals. We can all drive electric cars but what happens when there is no oil to make products?

    I think our only short term solution is to bite the bullet and go nuclear again. Generate electricity for cars, residential, and commercial industries and save the oil for those things that can not made or used without them.

    Yes, it less efficient but nuclear power is widely used, no more research and development is required, and meets all the environmental requirements to reduce emmissions. Yes, disposal is still an issue but I think it is a problem we can live with and will reduce our dependance on foreign oil.

    Investing in any other technologies besides batteries and electric cars is a boondoggle.

    Kill E85, hydrogen, and solar solutions and use the money to build nuclear plants.

  • avatar

    I hesitate to ask “What’s in this for me?” since the answer is usually “Nothing,” but who will pay to replace the fuel systems in some of our older cars which are incompatible with higher ethanol blends?

    I suppose that Congress would pass a liability shield law for ethanol producers, fuel blenders, and gas stations, and us drivers would be f#@ked.

  • avatar

    Just to follow up on cmcmail’s comments. Ethanol has an octane rating of 116. Ethanol is often blended to regular gasoline to raise the octane rating. This makes regular grade gasoline into plus or super.

    When I store my boat for the winter, I fill the tank with regular (with stabilizer) in the tank. I have had no fuel problems in the spring after 10 winters of outdoor storage in upstate NY.

    This might mean there is more ethanol in super. Or not.

  • avatar

    Well, westcott, I can’t disagree in theory. But, the problems are many;

    insufficient battery production capacity compounded by insufficient rare earths for permanent magnet electric motor production and battery production

    a rickety power grid which would need a lot of work (hampered, ironically, by greenies who keep on saying “NIMBY”)

    an irrational fascination with wind and solar which can’t provide our total needs – and which are likely to take precidence over nuke power

    the fact that nuke power itself is like hitting a fly with an anvil; all you need to generate power is enough heat to make steam! (then there is the fuel disposal problem for tens of thousands of years)

    I personally think we have to adjust our thinking to realize there is not necessarily going to be ONE magic fuel which replaces crude oil.

    I like biofuels; diesel can be grown. Butanol (a 4 carbon alcohol) is a near drop-in substitute for gasoline, far superior to ethanol (a 2 carbon alcohol). I like bio-oil; some Americans invented a process to turn sewage, offal and garbage into crude oil effectively and inexpensively

    I like electric and IF the car could be driven in the heavy northern snow, I’d be pleased to drive an electric car on my commutes.

    Finally, I think our biggest change will have to be between our ears. We’ll have to actually adjust to “needing” (i.e. WANTING) less and having less in the way of wastefulness, and our entire way of life worldwide will gradually move towards using less energy.

    A few examples; in 2005, I bought a Prius. I replaced it in 2008 with another. In 2011, I am going to consider a Hyundai Sonata hybrid.

    A decade ago, my wife & I started buying fluorescent bulbs, put an electronic thermostat on the house (temp goes down while we’re at work and while we’re asleep). We tried getting a gas tankless hot water heater (as we had in the UK) – since it makes no sense to heat water 24 hours a day when you need it 15 or 30 minutes a day – but could not get our rural home to work with it so got a Marathon super-high efficiency electric hot water heater. Our house (new in 1999) is very well insulated. We purposely bought land to build it on, which had natural gas available.

    You get the picture.

  • avatar
    George B

    I’d try to negotiate a bilateral trade deal with Brazil where they drop tariffs on cars built in the US in exchange for the US dropping the tariff on ethanol from Brazil. Pretty sure this would be a win-win deal for both countries while giving ADM, etc. a well deserved middle finger salute.

    I would like to have a minimal cost option to use alcohol fuel in the future without paying for the corn ethanol boondoggle now. People who actually design cars could do a better job of filling in the details, but I think I want to pay a little extra now for a gas tank, fuel pump, fuel lines, fuel filter, and fuel injectors that are compatible with ethanol and methanol, but not pay up front for the flex-fuel optical sensor and ECU development to support any blend of gasoline and alcohol. If research efforts to make alcohol fuel out of something cheap like grass clippings, garbage, or coal are successful, my car would then be ready to convert to gasoline’s cheaper replacement. On the other hand, if gasoline remains less expensive than alcohol through the life of my car, I just paid extra for fuel system parts that can survive the alcohol congress forces into my gasoline. What does high percentage blend ethanol/methanol material compatibility cost compared to building a car for E-10 only?

  • avatar

    By not allowing greater percentages of ethanol to be blended with gasoline, more ethanol will be produced than can legally be distributed, and therefore consumed, creating what has been termed a “blend wall.”

    Well, at least these ethanol-heads have tight marketing-smack.

    Detroit should learn. They can call their credit problems the “Lend Wall.”

  • avatar


    I agree the power grid would need work but at least the infrastructure is basically in place. The same could not be said of hydrogen or any other gas based distribution. And this is no small fact. It would take decades to establish any other type of distribution network.

    I also agree that battery technology still needs work but if we invested all our R&D dollars on the goal of electricity, we would be far closer to a solution near term. I see no other technology that will get us where we need to be short term.

    As you pointed out, it may not be the perfect solution for every application but it would GREATLY reduce our demand and use of oil in a shorter period of time over any other technolgy currently under debate.

    And probably most importantly, the reduction in CO2 emissions and other related poisons associated with fuel burning would be virtually eliminated. I feel that is even more important as global warming is no longer a debatable topic. It is reality and it too needs to be addressed immediately. The continued burning of fossil and bio fuels for transportation will never reduce CO2 emissions quickly enough to save this planet from catastophic climatic changes that are already starting to take place.

    The disposal of hazardous nuclear waste will be the least of our worries if the planet can not provide a habitable environement from our relentless attack on its resources and environment.

  • avatar

    Hi wescott,

    I have to respectifully disagree on the CO2 thing. Despite having a Prius.

    But being a Christian, I aim for Good Stewardship of God’s earth, whereas folks who believe in the religion of CO2 warming, are trying to climb the same mountain via a different side of the mountain… so to speak.

    Nuke waste disposal is not a deal-killer to me, but then again, I live in Michigan, not in the southwest where they want to put it – if ever allowed by the NIMBYs.

    Nuke fusion is obviously going to be immensely helpful if/when it ever becomes commercially viable.

    We do need to upgrade out power infrastructure, but if local goings on are any indicator, then it’ll be lights out or brownouts by mid-decade. (The local power company is having one hell of a time just getting a power line to help reduce problems in the city in which I work). Actually, it’s a small-ish town.

    Bureaucratic nightmare to get any frickin’ thing done any more. It’s a wonder we can still drive without big-brother looking down our necks.

    Whoops, never mind (Oregon…)

  • avatar

    I want E85 and BioDiesel and hydrogen and electric cars!
    Why does everyone just pick one? We need them all along with petroleum based fuels.
    The corn growers may not have the traditional farmers that make you feel good when you look at paintings and photos in magazines but the ag businesses do employ a large number of people in the US and around the world.
    They buy a lot of equipment too.
    Is ADM or Cargill more or less evil than ExxonMobil or GM?
    menno is definitely right about the power infrastructure needing help. There’s been more outages since 2003 for me than in the previous 35 years of my life.

  • avatar

    Menno, why do you replace your car every 3 years? Surely you realize that they will last far, far longer than that.

  • avatar

    Politicians are not capable of making correct decisions on their own. They need experts to tell them what is right. The experts on bio fuels are all the same players that are plugged into the farm subsidy scam.

    Whether you like it or not, farming is essentially fixing of carbon (high energy bonds) with solar energy as the energy source. Base line analysis of the problem of bio fuels has to begin with the same calculations that are used by the solar energy industry.

    What are the demonstrated capture percentages of corn? That is, how much of the energy that strikes that corn field is actually captured and stored. Hint, It’s really low.

    What other options (think primary producers) are known to have much higher yields. (Amount of solar energy captured and fixed in carbon-carbon bonds per acre per year?

    What are the costs per btu?

  • avatar

    The only thing I like ethanol for… is a fuel for heavily turbocharged engines as the reduced energy content and increased volume of fuel is great for reducing combustion chambers temps as they are being cram fed several atmospheres of air/fuel mixture (2 litre I4 engine eating for 6 litres of V8). E85 is kinda like having cheap(er) liquid crack(race fuel) which is propulsive bliss when smoked in the turbonium crack pipe. Not for consumption by every Joe, Jane and Jackie… your mileage may vary, seek professional tuning help before allowing your engine to imbibe such chemical cocktails.

    Oh crap… thats not what it was meant for. Hrm.

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