American Elephants

Ethanol: Dirtier Air, More Pollution, Ruined Engines — So the EPA Wants You To Use More! by The Elephant's Child

The ethanol industry has a problem.  They have built too many distilleries, and made more ethanol than can be put in your gas tank at the current limit.  There has been a limit, at 10%, on how much ethanol can be put in each gallon of gasoline  because more would have a negative impact on your car. The EPA has just announced that it will raise the limit to 15% to bail out the ethanol industry.

Unless your car has a new flex-fuel engine, it can’t take the greater percentage,  which will probably destroy the engines of your gasoline powered equipment, like lawn mowers, or boat motors or even leaf-blowers.  Boat owners are already having to pay for expensive repairs to their boats’ fuel lines and tanks.  And of course, each gallon of ethanol won’t give you as much power as a gallon of gasoline.

To quote energy expert, and author of Power Hungry ,Robert Bryce:

The EPA is granting them a bailout by allowing ethanol producers to blend more of their corrosive, hydrophilic, low-heat content fuel into our gasoline.  And while the agency’s ruling limits the use of the higher-ethanol-content gasoline to model year 2007 and newer cars and trucks, the move further complicates the American motor-fuel market, which is already the most Balkanized motor-fuel market in the world.  Refiners are now producing about 45 different blends of gasoline and multiple blends of diesel fuel.  Managing all those different fuels increases costs that are ultimately borne by the consumer.

Ethanol is a pure scam.  In July the CBO reported that corn-ethanol subsidies cost U.S. taxpayers more than $7 billion a year.   Corn-based ethanol is not supportable on economic, environmental or logistical grounds.  It increases air pollution, water pollution, freshwater consumption, coastal pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and food prices.  We  have had three decades of subsidies, yet no decline in oil imports.

The real outrage is air quality. The EPA  admitted in 2007 that increased use of ethanol in gasoline would increase emissions of key air pollutants by as much as 7 percent.  On Wednesday they again acknowledged that increased ethanol consumption will mean higher emissions of key pollutants.

In August 39 groups asked congress to hold hearings about the proposed increase.  An amazing coalition— the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the American Petroleum Institute, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Working Group, the Boat Owners Assn., Bass Anglers Sportsmen Society, Motorcycle Industry, Service Station Dealers and Friends of the Earth, to name a few.  Congressional Democrats couldn’t be bothered.

Wesley Clark, onetime Democrat presidential candidate heads Growth Energy, and ethanol advocacy group, said that “much more must be done to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.” Subsidies  and mandates haven’t cut imports at all.  This is simply the Obama administration’s attempt to buy the farm lobby.

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Indeed. I’d only add that it wasn’t only Congressional Democrats who “couldn’t be bothered.” Congressional Republicans from Corn Belt states couldn’t be bothered either. And the cycle continues. Here is a list of political contributions made by ethanol industry heavyweights to Republican (and a few Democrat) Congressional hopefuls, including:

Marco Rubio, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in Florida, $4,800; Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, about $6,300; Rob Portman, a Republican Senate candidate in Ohio, $24,000; Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., $2,300; John McCain for president in 2008, $4,600; Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., about $10,900; and Mitt Romney, R-Mass., for his presidential run in 2008, $2,300.

[O]ther ethanol executives have been politically active. Poet LLC founder and CEO Jeff Broin has been giving to candidates, political action committees and national parties since 1995, according to

In 2010 Broin has donated $37,900, including a $30,400 donation to the National Republican Senatorial Committee on Aug. 26. His other donations include $2,500 to the Blue Dog Political Action Committee; $2,000 to ORRRINPAC; $1,500 to Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio; a total of $1,000 to Rep. Stephanie M. Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D.; and $500 to the Rep. Earl R. Pomeroy, D-N.D.

The mandates remain in place, but the subsidies and border protection are due to expire at the end of this year. What fiscal conservatives need to do is to make sure that a lame duck Congress does not rush through a renewal of these policies when it returns to lawmaking in November.

We’re talking about a $30-35 billion decision here if the proposed extension of the volumetric ethanol excise tax credit (VEETC) gets the 5-year extension that the industry wants.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

Whether Congressional Republicans couldn’t be bothered didn’t make any difference. They couldn’t hold hearings on their own. And with health care, stimulus and Wall Street reform all going on, everybody was distracted. Probably most of them think ethanol is a good thing anyway. I have a suspicion that most of our legislators don’t go home to bone up on energy and environment matters after a hard day in the committee rooms. Ernest Istook is probably the only one who actually knows what he is talking about environmentally speaking,


Comment by The Elephant's Child

Good point. I suspect that the ethanol industry is concentrating on giving money to their preferred Republican candidates because they know that they can count on the Democratic reps from the Midwest.

But therein lies a danger for true fiscal conservatives. If this kind of money is influencing the election results — i.e., who in the Republican primaries gets ellected — it is bad for your party, as it means that you get stuck with a bunch of politicians who put local vested ineterests first, and the greater good of the country far down their list of priorities.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

I debunked all of your ethanol myths both of you
were spreading with this previous thread.

Alcohol blends are better ..especially e-85
and does better in a engine tuned for it.
Fords new 5.0 has a high compression ratio
and many fuel maps (that take advantage)of it
straight from the ford dealership.
Here the Police test e-85
Here is a ordinary mustang

In a nutshell we can grow enough corn to feed
the world and help power cars.


Comment by Ron spins

Ron, I don’t think I said that E-85 harms flex-fuel engines. Most cars and trucks do not have flex-fuel engines, only the new ones, and that is a small percentage of the cars on the market. I know you love your Prius, and good for you, it can take E85.

You are arguing with undependable sources. You cannot use statements and statistics from the ethanol industry to prove that ethanol is fine, nor statements from the aluminum industry trying to scare up more auto parts made from aluminum about safety. I’m not suggesting that they are lying, but they are not an objective source either.

I rely a lot on Master Resource,(scroll down under categories to ethanol), and on Robert Bryce (who was editor of Energy Tribune, and is now a senior fellow at Manhattan Institute). His new book is “Power Hungry” which is highly recommended. The experts in the World Food Supply don’t agree with you — see the Center for Global Food Issues. You will find that ethanol is far more damaging to the environment than gasoline.

Brazilian ethanol is made from sugar cane, and there are problems I have read about with essentially slave labor used to produce it, but I really don’t know much about that. Brazil is very busily drilling for oil offshore! They’re apparently not willing to depend on sugar cane. You do know that ethanol only contains about 80% of the power of gasoline, don’t you? A gallon won’t take you as far.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

Ron, The big idea for ethanol is that it will 1). reduce pollution and 2). reduce dependence on “foreign” oil. Both are completely false. It is, however, a big payoff to the Corn lobby.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

@Ron, your link to the Mustang says:

Basically, while the performance benefits of E85’s 105 octane are well documented (note our horsepower and torque gains …), the downside, if you will, of using corn is an inherent 28-30% loss in fuel mileage. As you see in the charts, our tests with E85 and tuning resulted in a much smaller mileage loss (7-10%) for Paul Cope’s ’04 Mach 1.

No doubt with propper tuning, an engine can be optimized for E85, thus improving its fuel economy. But the vast majority of E85 vehicles in the United States are not so optimized.

I suspect, also, that the comparison that your driver friends have been making has not been between pure gasoline and E85 but between E10 and E85. That means that the gap is going to be smaller on a thermodynamic basis. Thus while E85 has 28% less energy than pure gasoline, it has 26% less energy than E10.

Moreover, the results of the Mustang owner’s test depends on when he or she purchased the “E85”. Little known is the fact that during the winter months, a fuel can still be marketed as “E85” and yet contain as little as 70% ethanol. In that case, the difference in thermal density between E70 and E10 drops to 20%.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

Subsidy, Isn’t E-85 85% gasoline and 15% ethanol? And E10 has 10% ethanol in the gallon of gasoline? Some of the comments are confusing.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

Isn’t E-85 85% gasoline and 15% ethanol? And E10 has 10% ethanol in the gallon of gasoline?

Actually, E85 means a fuel with a maximum 85% ethanol content. As described by the USDOE:

E85, like gasoline and diesel fuels, is seasonally adjusted to ensure proper starting and performance in different geographic locations. For example, E85 sold during colder months often contains 70% ethanol and 30% petroleum to produce the necessary vapor pressure for starting in cold temperatures. An E85 fueling site operator typically cannot carry over summer-blend E85 but rather must “blend down” any remaining summer fuel to make an E70 mixture. This can be done with relative ease by adding additional gasoline to the storage tank. There is no concern with carrying over winter-blend E70 into warmer months because flexible fuel vehicles operate on any blend of E85 and gasoline during warmer times.

In short, except in southern states, by winter E85 is typically actually E70. Moreover, there is nothing to prevent that E70 continuing to be sold after the winter and stil be labeled “E85”.

By contrast, E10 is E10. My point was that in most parts of the United States, “gasoline” nowadays is actually E10. So when ethanol enthusiasts compare the performance of their vehicles between gasoline and E85, what they may actually be comparing is E70 with E10 — which means that the observed mileage penalty between running on “gasoline” and running on “E85” will actually be less than it would be if the fuels were actually what they claim to be.

Still confusing?


Comment by Subsidy Eye

More than ever! I thought all the fuss was about adding 15% ethanol to a gallon of gas, and now you are telling me that some cars are running on almost pure ethanol? Here in WA we have 10% ethanol in all gas, which I consider offensive. This is so stupid!


Comment by The Elephant's Child

I thought all the fuss was about adding 15% ethanol to a gallon of gas, …

That is the current debate. The EPA has approved the sale of E15 to vehicles built since 2007. It is expected to soon approve sales of E15 to vehicles built since 2001.

This is not about forcing E15 on drivers, at least not yet. It is about moving the “blend wall” — the maximum allowed ethanol content used by vehicles that are not built to use high blends of ethanol. It is about appeasing the ethanol lobby — which, as you point out at the beginning of your column, has over-built corn-ethanol distilleries.

Now, one may ask, if this is only a question of giving consumers greater choice, what’s the fuss? The fuss has to do with liability. Automakers, naturally, are afraid of law suits over damaged engines and fuel lines. Whether the damage actually is caused by ethanol is besides the point: it could provide the pretext for thousands of costly lawsuits — which, understandably, the fuel distributors and the automakers want to avoid like the plague.

… and now you are telling me that some cars are running on almost pure ethanol?

Yes, they are called flex-fuel vehicles, or FFVs. Indeed, Congress a number of years ago required that federal and state fleets give preferences to FFVs. But because E85-capable vehicles count against CAFE standards as if half of the time they are running on 15% gasoline (the ethanol doesn’t count as “fuel” in the calaculation of miles per gallon), Detroit until very recently has concentrated on producing FFVs on the larger, heavier end of their range. Thus a typical FFV on the road is an SUV with a 5-litre engine.

The irony of all this is that, but encouraging FFVs, the government actually encouraged the sale of gas guzzlers, especially given that the vast majority of the owners of these vehicles do not tank up on E85 (or E70) but on gasoline (or E10).

The Union of Concerned Scientists estimated a few years ago that the “dual-fuel” loophole in the CAFE standards would actually end up increasing U.S. gasoline usage, not decreasing it. Consumer Reports explained:

The FFV surge is being motivated by generous fuel-economy credits that auto-makers get for every FFV they build, even if it never runs on E85. This allows them to pump out more gas-guzzling large SUVs and pickups, which is resulting in the consumption of many times more gallons of gasoline than E85 now replaces.

You should be surprised at nothing in the wild, whacky world of biofuels. It is a textbook case of how government, when it tries to pick winners, only makes matters worse.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

Here’s a link to the Union of Concerned Scientists web page on the dual-fuel loophole:

Not all environmental groups, thankfully, ignore science and economics.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

It’s worse than I thought. A case study in how politicians can destroy an industry. And the much maligned Rick Wagoner was doing a fine job of fixing GM until Obama came along. Perhaps he really does believe in all his green claims. I haven’t seen anyone total up the useless expenditures on unworkable green stuff.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

Dear, The Elephant’s Child
Just taking the first paragraph from your post
October 30,2010 @ 11:56 pm
I Never claimed you said E-85 flex fuel engines.
A claim like that is crazy since the definition
of a flex fuel vehicle is one that is tuned for
both e-85 and regular gas.
Since it is Very Hard to buy 100% gasoline
(you can do it)any vehicle (including yours)is
a flex fuel vehicle to a lesser degree because
the gas that you purchase has 10% ethanol in it.
I do love my PRIUS but it is designed for
regular gasoline with 10% ethanol max but can
run on e-85 for a while (will run lean)and
cause warning lights to be displayed.
Kits are made to convert it to e-85.
The computer does not have the fuel maps in it
for e-85.The computer can also have the e-85 fuel
maps flashed in.
Ethanol is a harsher solvent than gasoline , it
attacks rubber parts more than gasoline and
stirs up crud in a fuel tank.
PRIUS E-85 test and conversion to E-85 video.

Click to access prius-e85.PDF

Finally here is a dragster on E-85
151 mph In the quarter mile , not bad , eh?


Comment by Ron spins

Sign of the times:

As the U.S. corn ethanol production hit an all-time high of 38 million gallons a day (13.9 billion gallons annualized) and [subsidized] exports are surpassing even Brazil’s exports, the industry lobby is adjusting to the new realities in Washington. With the Republicans set to take over at least the House of Representatives, Growth Energy announced that former Republican congressman Jim Nussle (R-IA) was taking over the role of President & Chief Operating Officer. Tom Buis, a democrat, would remain as CEO. General Wes Clark, a former presidential candidate, is said to be staying put as a Co-Chairman of lobbying group.

Elephants: if Republicans take over one or more houses of Congress, this is the kind of corruption that you need to go after, root and branch.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

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