OPINION EDITORIAL - Bill Gephardt, like hundreds of others I’ve read similar articles about, is reporting much higher mileage losses from ethanol mixed gasoline than the 2-3 percent claimed by the EPA, in fact many say they’re getting more than a 10 percent loss. If we’re adding 10 percent ethanol to gasoline and experiencing a 10 percent loss in mileage, ethanol use is a totally wasted effort.
See Gephardt’s opinion, “Gas mileage going down?”
Internal combustion engines using gasoline get up to 37 percent fuel efficiency; meaning 63 percent percent of gasoline’s energy potential is wasted. Most engines are typically only able to make efficient use of 20 percent of gasoline’s energy potential. In most engines, if you could get 100 percent energy efficiency from gasoline, you would get around 5 times more mileage than you get right now.
The first thing to understand about ethanol is that oil and water don’t mix. Ethanol is water based while gasoline is made from oil. The kind of ethanol added to gasoline is anhydrous, meaning no water. If there were water in it, the ethanol will not mix with gasoline. Then even after it’s mixed, if the ethanol comes in contact with water, it will attach to it and sink to the bottom of the tank, like vinegar in an oil and vinegar salad dressing.
Ethanol 113 Octane
Ethanol has an octane rating of 113. Although high-octane fuels cost more at filling stations, they have lower energy contents. This is because the higher an energy content a fuel has, the easier it ignites. The easiest way to explain why we look at a fuel with less energy content as being higher grade is to look at gunpowder. If you ignite simple gunpowder in the open air, it will flare easily, followed by a cloud of visible smoke. If you however encase it in tightly wrapped paper, like a firecracker, when it’s ignited, it explodes.
In an engine, the closer a piston is to the top of the piston chamber where there is the smallest amount of air space when the spark plug ignites the fuel, the more power is created. The less energy content of a fuel, the longer it will wait for the spark plug to ignite it. Most vehicles have low compression engines and use regular gasoline, which has an 87 octane rating. If you use low octane fuel in a high compression engine, it will ignite before the spark plug tells it to.
When an ignition system’s computer analyzes a gasoline/ethanol mix to decide when to tell the spark plug to ignite, it gets confused because it can’t tell the engine to produce an ideal combustion platform for igniting two different octane fuels at once. So it settles for the best results that it can.
Regular gasoline is 87 octanes, midgrade is 89, and high test is between 91 and 92 octane. That’s a difference of only a few points between them. But there’s a big difference in the engines designed to use them. Then they add 113-octane ethanol to these much lower grade fuels, a tragic leap of 16 points from 87-octane. It’s claimed this is all taken into consideration so as to produce an end product equals the right octane blend for your car. But that explanation is lost on the fact that ethanol and gasoline don’t blend when splashed mixed at fuel depots but rather remain two separate fuels.
Try looking at it from another perspective. Ethanol “mixed” gasoline causes mileage problems for us that Netherlands has overcome by blending ethanol in a refining process that combines the two fuels into one homogenous product. We know we don’t experience mileage losses if we don’t add ethanol to gasoline in the first place, which is something even ethanol’s supporters don’t argue against. They however claim the mileage loss is negligible while ignoring facts showing how significant it actually is. Then there’s the lack of mileage loss when pure ethanol is used, meaning how can the lower energy content of ethanol be the cause of a mileage loss if it can be used by itself with no mileage loss.
Submitted by: Aaron Kelly
email (with permission) op-ed writer, Aaron Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org