Ethanol Fuel Controversy

ethanol_fuelAs you know Ethanol is a clean-burning, high-octane motor fuel that is produced from renewable sources. At most gas stations a percentage of ethanol is combined with unleaded gasoline. The federal government arbitrarily limits the use of ethanol in a gallon of gasoline to just 10 percent (E10 = 10% ethanol and 90% unleaded gasoline). E10 is approved for use in any make or model of vehicle sold in the U.S. Many automakers recommend its use because of its high performance, clean-burning characteristics. Today about 70% of America’s gasoline contained some ethanol, most is this E10 blend. Problem is that many automobilists, boaters and now I hear bikers state that Ethanol in gasoline would lower performance, damage engine, , fuel handling systems and fuel tanks.

Ethanol is a blend of gasoline and ethyl alcohol. Ethyl alcohol is an excellent solvent and is hydroscopic, that is it adsorbs water. Acting as a solvent, it would appear that ethanol can damage and dissolve some tank sealants that can be ingested by the engine which can cause damage. Ethanol has also a cleaning effect on tanks that releases fine metallic particles passing through most fuel filters. The dissolved metals will clog fuel injector nozzles and carburetors. Ethanol added to a fuel tank contaminated with water will cause expensive repairs. The water in the tank will combine with the ethyl alcohol to produce a noncombustible layer of liquid in the tanks that will stop most engines cold. Right now, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agenc)y is accepting comments on a proposal to increase the allowable ethanol content of gasoline to 15 percent, a move opposed by many. So, I would like to know if you have experienced any problems that you think are related to the ethanol/fuel blend you use.

20 Responses to “Ethanol Fuel Controversy”

  1. 1 Woody May 19th, 2009 at 9:30 am

    been running 10% in SE Wisconsin for years due to regulations from Chicago/Milwaukee area air quality. Never had any fuel related probs in my 3 bikes other than worse gas mileage. I can always get an extra 3-5% mileage when I’m “up north”. Apparently if we burm MORE of a cleaner fuel every mile it’s still better 😉
    E85 is a bad joke to everyone but the corn farmers and alcohol producers being subsidized with our tax money to make it competitive in price. If every acre of corn in the country was devoted to alcohol production it’d barely make a dent in our oil importation, but food/cattle feed prices sure would skyrocket!

  2. 2 hoyt May 19th, 2009 at 11:05 am

    Woody – I agree with you…there’s more to this story than possible engine damage.

  3. 3 Dave Blevins May 19th, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    I am good friends with an ethynol producer, a small operation but still properly licensed by the state. Alcohol is made when sugar is distilled, so corn is not as the primary crop, it is sugar cane or beets, grain alcohol is formed from converting starches to sugars & mostly is done for flavor… since ethynol is not to be be drank by humans the taste is irrelevant, so don’t be thinking food prices will increase if ethynol becomes more common. Also, corn has not been a government subsidised crop for many years, I know this by living and growing up in a farming area so your tax dollars are not paying for this technology (at least as far as farm produced grains and sugars are concerned).
    The alcohol has less octane than gasoline, so obviously the fuel economy and power loss is very real, making alcohol a poor substitute for gasoline unless you produce your own. However, a very high octane alcohol fuel can, and is being produced and has been for years. It is commonly used in TopFuel race cars… it creates tremendous power, it also more expensive.
    In short, ethyl alcohol will not cause any real problems if your vehicle is designed to burn it, & if the alcohol supply is fresh. He uses it all the time with little or no problem. I still use good old gas in my stuff though.

  4. 4 Grayhawk May 19th, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    Dave B., on your point about,” if it is fresh”, may be the real issue as what I am hearing and I am not a chemist, via the rumor mill, word is that the blends and subsequent EA supplements are creating a secenario where you better use/burn the gas fast or the issue with old/bad gas comes up quick.

    Anybody technical on that subject? What is life cycle of modern day gas under discussion? Also if there is any difference in Summer and Winter gas blends and defineable differences.


  5. 5 Woody May 19th, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    sugar cane and some grasses are excellent sources and produce much more alcohol (that’s what they use in Brazil) than corn does, unfortunately most E85 produced in this country (and subsidized up the ass) is from corn 🙁

  6. 6 Lyle May 19th, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    All the Ethanol plants around here are subsidized and use corn. Additionaly, the process uses other chemicals such as potassium acetetate and has driven up those prices tup as much as 3 or 4 times. Potassium acetate is used as a non-corrosive de-icing chemical in various industries including Transportaion (bridge deck de-icers, etc). So there are some spin-off effects. We can still get “non-oxigenated” gas around here at the pump for “small engines.”

  7. 7 Dave Blevins May 19th, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    I am not a chemist either, but the some of our local university chemistry staff and a few students come by my buddy’s place often with statistics, ideas, etc., have mentioned many times that water loves ethyl alcohol and can’t wait to get in it… this makes for octane problems for sure. So use it quick lest it become tainted.
    Also to note, ethyl alcohol hates aluminum and aluminum fuel tanks are slowly chemically etched when alcohol is inside them, this is why no still should have any aluminum parts.
    All statistics I can find (Progressive Farmer, USDA, etc) say around 70 percent of grain farmers receive no subsidy or “support price” as they are known among farmers, certainly none in this area since I was a child. This is why most farmers in this region are now cattle farmers instead of grain farmers. The fields are full of cows instead of the rows of corn I saw as a boy. Perhaps things are different for Archer Daniels Midland and the like.
    By the way, there is no support price on cattle either, but hamburgers are still popular… perhaps we should look into chopping meat instead of bikes nowadays! HaHaHa.

  8. 8 Woody May 19th, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Dave, I was trying to be brief (I’m not too good at that) the subsidies went to the alcohol makers, but indirectly to the grain farmers because of the increased demand for corn driving up the prices artificially. My bad 🙂

  9. 9 Dave May 20th, 2009 at 6:46 am

    I had a 1999 Kawasaki Vulcan, it was carburated and not designed to run the higher ethanol blend. The Ethanol will do many things, all of which I had happen to me. The hoses can diteriorate, the sealant in gas tanks can be disolved and if it is a steel tank, will rust on the inside and fowl your carburator, causing the jets to stick and flood. Brass needles, and jets will oxidize due to the water content as well. The gas blend is hydorscopic and effectively gives the gasoline a shelf life of about 2-3 weeks. There are products like E-Sorb that need to be added to the gas to overcome the affects of the water adsorption.

    I had to have my tank etched and resealed and my carb cleaned to fix the problem. Stainless steel jets and needle valves are needed as well.

  10. 10 Mike Greenwald May 20th, 2009 at 8:13 am

    Pacific Ethanol Inc., the largest West Coast producer of ethanol, said its subsidiaries filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Monday, the latest in a wave of companies dragged down by poor conditions in the U.S. ethanol market.

    There are at least 10 other ethanol producers in bankruptcy, including VeraSun Energy, Aventine Renewable Energy, Renew Energy and Cascade Grain Products LLC.

    There’s very possibly going to be 40 plants by the end of January that are in Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

  11. 11 Captainkeys May 20th, 2009 at 8:50 am

    I would lean toward a proper development of using ethanol. Somehow, I don’t think an electric harley has the same excitement, although even without a muffler it would probably be perfectly acceptable in Myrtle Beach….. A Nuclear powered model, now that’s a different story….

    Although we still have tons of oil now, the day is coming my friends, the day is coming.. repent…..

  12. 12 Mike Greenwald May 20th, 2009 at 9:36 am

    Captain Keys,

    We have more oil inside our borders, than all the other proven reserves on earth.

    Want the hard data? Go here…

  13. 13 David May 20th, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    One of the big problems with the ethanol and especially the corn it comes from is the massive amount of water it takes to grow it! I live on the edge of the western desert( the Texas Panhandle) and the irragation runs almost consantly here for the corn.
    I dont know about you but I had rather walk or ride my bicycle than go without water. It would get awfully dry if it runs out!
    I do agree with Woody and Dave.


  14. 14 Grayhawk May 20th, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    Thanks for the added info Dave B.,Dave, David not sue if your all one and the same or not.

    Further to my comment – That is why I threw the fresh gas question and gas has a life cycle comments out there as it is a problemactic concern and does have issues and create problems to materials and starting and running issues, modern day gas will go bad faster than it used to because of additives and same additives do and will cause issues, some over time some at/when starting up your bike, carb models seem to be affected more due to tuning or the lack of because they can not compensate/adjust as well on the fly as you old school ear tuners know, injected bikes computer adjusts within its system constraints for different variables but not all.

    Summer and Winter gasoline are different and cause price fluctuations at change over prior to Summer, as well as increased driving demands and commodity speculators.

    Bikes putting around the country side and stopping at country stores on the back roads sometimes run into issues as the turn over in the stores storage tank supply refill cycle is longer and same stale gas and water issues ocurr, especially at low storage tank level and just after a refill by bulk tanker. Same possible issue with fair weather/summer only rider and no Stabil that left gas in tank over long periods.

    Not wanting to put any small gas stations in the red as they are the friendliest road stops but doesn’t hurt to ask them a couple questions before you fill up on long lonely roads otherwise like truckers fill up at big volume fuel stops you can still stop and stretch your legs and contribute to their economy in other ways.

    Below comments are lengthly/long winded but explain blending a bit that I took excerpts and plagerized from the oil drum:

    So toggle down to the next bloggers comment if not interested.

    The summer blend switchover;

    This transition from winter-blend to summer-blend fuel, a concoction that causes less smog, occurs every spring. It causes a dip in gasoline supplies as refineries in the U.S. shut down temporarily to retool their production facilities.
    That’s only partially correct, and is probably the extent of most people’s understanding of this transition.
    Refining 101: Winter Gasoline.
    There are two key (although not the only) specifications that refiners must meet for gasoline. The gasoline needs to have the proper octane, and it needs to have the proper Reid vapor pressure (RVP). While the octane of a particular grade is constant throughout the year, the RVP spec changes with the seasons.
    The RVP is based on a test that measures vapor pressure of the gasoline blend at 100 degrees F. Normal atmospheric pressure varies, but is usually around 14.7 lbs per square inch (psi). Atmospheric pressure is caused by the weight of the air over our heads. If a liquid has a vapor pressure of greater than normal atmospheric pressure, that liquid boils. For example, when you heat a pan of water, the vapor pressure increases until it reaches atmospheric pressure. At that point, the water begins to boil.
    In the summer, when temperatures can exceed 100 degrees F in many locations, it is important that the RVP of gasoline is well below 14.7. Otherwise, it can pressure up your gas tanks and gas cans, and it can boil in open containers. Gas that is vaporized ends up in the atmosphere, and contributes to air pollution. Therefore, the EPA has declared that summer gasoline blends may not exceed 7.8 psi in some locations, and 9.0 psi in others. The particulars vary, but key considerations are the altitude and motor vehicle density of a specific location. The EIA summarizes the key points:
    Some States elected to require even more stringent restrictions to achieve local clean air goals, and require 7.2- and 7.0-psi gasolines.
    Butane, which has an RVP of 52 psi, can be blended into gasoline in higher proportions in the winter because the vapor pressure allowance is higher. There are 2 advantages in doing this. First, butane is a cheaper blending component than most of the other ingredients. That makes fall and winter gasoline cheaper to produce. But butane is also abundant, so that means that gasoline supplies increase in the winter because more butane is thrown into the mix. Not only that, but this all takes place after summer driving season, when demand typically falls off. These factors normally combine each year to reduce gasoline prices in the fall (even in non-election years). The RVP is stepped back down to summer levels starting in the spring, and this usually causes prices to increase.
    Another misconception that some have is that they can save money by buying cheap gas in the winter and storing it for the summer. Remember that winter gasoline will pressure up as the weather heats up, and the contained butane will start to vaporize out of the mix. You will end up with less gasoline than you paid for, and you will be contributing to the air pollution problem that summer gasoline was designed to avoid. If, on the other hand, you were to buy summer gasoline and try to store it until winter, you might find yourself having problems getting the fuel to ignite, due to the lower vapor pressure. This would be like putting a little bit of diesel in your gasoline – not very good for your car. So buy and use gasoline in the correct season.
    The blending of ethanol into the gasoline pool has been controversial because (among other things) it increases the vapor pressure of gasoline blends. This has resulted in the need for a 1 psi waiver for ethanol-containing fuels. From the previously linked EIA report:
    As a part of the Clean Air Act Amendments, conventional gasoline containing 10 percent ethanol was allowed to exceed the Federal RVP maximums by 1 psi.
    The simplest explanation to give to anyone regarding summer and winter blends is: Summer blends contain 2% butane, and winter blends contain 10% butane. That right there sums up almost the entire difference. The same ingredients can go into summer and winter blends (cracked gas, alkylate, naphtha, straight run, etc.) but you just juggle the amounts. Naphtha, for instance, has a very low vapor pressure. Therefore, it would be useful for bringing down the vapor pressure of the blend, which would make it more of a summer component. But, it also has a very low octane, so you can’t put much in there without putting in some high octane components to compensate.
    Another key to all of this besides butane. In summer you have to cut the front end off of all the components to keep light ends out of the blend by adjusting cutpoints in all the fractionators. The entire distillation specification shifts heavier because light ends evaporate quicker. That is why most fill up early in the morning or late at night as you get less bang for your buck filling up in the heat of the day due to evaporation and expansion as the pump meter measures more and you get less from the fill nozzle.

    Sorry comment so long.


  15. 15 Nicker May 20th, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    Well, it’s good enough to power USAC midgets……. it OK by me.

    But, everything gives off something when it burns.
    What’s this stuff give-off…???
    (how about Aldehydes -as in formaldehyde-)


  16. 16 Dave Blevins May 20th, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    My name is Dave Blevins of Blevins-Jones USA a machine shop and custom bike shop, all my posts are under the name Dave Blevins, I don’t know who the Dave or David guys are that post on here. I always use my full name when posting.

  17. 17 Grayhawk May 20th, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    Thanks Dave B., for the clarity, I just got to looking after our last comment exchange and that is what I found on, “the oil drum”, site it has about everything you ever wanted to know or didn’t want to know about blending, fractionation, involved politics, etc. in regard to fuels.

    Looks like the ethanol add in may be worse for the ozone than not using it along with all the other issues and my take on what all I read was in the long run it is more costly front end, back end and other associated and spinoff impacting cost increases. the things we do not to drill are own oil?

    My read but just scanned site to see what jumped out.



  18. 18 Conrad May 21st, 2009 at 4:05 am

    Everyone on here has the metal compacity to grasp the fact that E85 is a joke and the only reason we have it is for the Fish Kissers and Tree Huggers to be happy. If I could afford the insurance I would go buy an SRT10 Ram just to shove the 7/10 mpg in their faces. I honestly feel that they just like to hear themselves talk and nothing good comes from them.

    Say for example we buy E85, 1.97 a gallon at the Kroger near my house. I buy the $1.97 gallons instead of the $2.34 premium to put into my car. I get 22 MPG on the freeway with 93 octane and 15 to16 with E85….Sorry but I would much rather spend the 10 cents per mile than 13 or 14 cents per gallon and know my car will run better with premium.

  19. 19 Conrad May 21st, 2009 at 4:05 am

    OOPS meant MILE not Gallon

  20. 20 Coldwater Aug 4th, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    I have a ’97 Kawasaki Vulcan 750 and a 2004 Suzuki 25 horse 4-stroke outboard. The $4200 outboard has been useless for 2 years due to ethanol; the dealer mailed out warnings that have come true to a T, and I’ll have him haul it out of the lake this winter, and while he stores it have him work on the engine, hopefully updating it.

    The bike eats through the diaphragm on the fuel valve right under the tank on an almost monthly basis; other damage I’m not yet aware of, though It must be happening. The fuel lines seem to be fine. I am at this point, due to my outboard experience, betting that it’s the ethanol that’s eating the diaphragm, which is a balloon-thin little piece of rubber.

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Cyril Huze