Ethanol myth busting

Ethanol has a powerful defender in Bobby Likis. For 21 years, he's hosted a car-talk program, plus he's run an automotive repair shop for 41 years.
By Susanne Retka Schill | December 10, 2012

Ethanol has a powerful defender in Bobby Likis. For 21 years, he’s hosted a car-talk program, plus he’s run an automotive repair shop for 41 years. In October, Bobby Likis Car Clinic live did several sessions at CARS 2012 in New Orleans (the Congress of Automotive Repairs and Service), that are now available on the Car Clinic Network website.  

My favorite was “Ethanol Myth Busters” – featuring several speakers addressing some of the myths surrounding ethanol, followed by a Q&A with auto mechanics attending the National Automotive Service Task Force session. Needless to say, it got into some the technical details that, not being a mechanic myself, I can barely follow. If you understand such things, you might get some of your answers by listening to the various interviews.

Likis digs into the oft-repeated myths surrounding ethanol, saying that in 41 years in the business, he never once saw an engine fail due to ethanol. “What I saw was the cleaning out of fuel tanks, the cars we fixed stayed fixed,” Likis said about the early days. “People say ethanol ruins engines. I would say people ruin engines, not ethanol.”  After 30 years of ethanol blends, he added, all engines are built for E10 and newer ones will handle E15. As for boats and small engines on E15, Likis said underuse is causing issues more than the ethanol content of the fuel.

Those of you interested in ethanol-optimized engines will be interested in the remarks from Dr. Matty Vint, chief engineer, powertrain controls, Ricardo Engineering. He said yes, ethanol has less energy content than gasoline, but the fuel economy of ethanol blends is not direct related to energy content. “Under real live testing of E10, vehicles average 1.4 percent less in fuel economy,” he said. “Tire pressure has more impact on mpg.”

The new federal CAFE standards are calling for a doubling of fuel mileage performance, which, Vint says, is going to send OEM’s looking for high octane numbers to improve efficiency and ethanol is the best source.  Ricardo, an engineering firm with over 100 years in the business of engine design, has developed an extreme boosted direct injection engine (EBDI) to optimize ethanol blends. The 3.2 V6 gasoline engine rivals the power and torque of a much larger GMC Sierra 6.7 diesel, he said, and it delivers 3.5 percent better fuel economy than the diesel.

The educational outreach at CARS 2012 was a joint effort involving Ricardo Engineering, the Renewable Fuels Association and the Bobby Likis Car Clinic. The RFA and Ricardo manned a booth and appeared in several segments filmed by the Car Clinic crew. You can watch segments on the Car Clinic Network including the “Ethanol Myth Busters” session, plus interviews with Matty Vint, Ricardo; Kelly Davis, RFA director of regulatory affairs; John Kasab, chief engineer, innovations & chemical technology, Ricardo Engineering; Chris Talwar, senior director, business development, Ricardo Engineering; plus several other organization leaders attending CARS 2012.



9 Responses

  1. frank



    Why do we use ethanol? It seems the reasons are obscured. Initially it was to replace MBTE as an oxygenator. Ethanol was viewed to have less environmental problems should gasoline spills/leaks occur. Oxygenator is not needed in the modern fuel injected, computer controlled engine. In pre-80’s engines an oxygenator helped reduce pollutants. Now it is obsolete for that function. But profits demand it’s continued use. So it seems new reasons to use ethanol were promoted. Carbon neutral, reduce foreign dependence, stable crop & prices for farmer, take your pick. But Ethanol is not some snowy white, pollution free energy. Growing corn has Unanticipated Consequences. The CO2 emitting coal fired power plants are a direct result of hippy/environmentalists of the 60-70’s era. Their efforts killed nuclear, coal became king, global climate change. Unanticipated Consequences. What will increased corn growing do? They don’t use cow manure to fertilize it; no chemical fertilizers are mined in pollution making operations. Genetically modified corn is planted. Runoff from farms contributes to oxygen depleting algae blooms in the oceans. More land will be cleared to grow more corn. More massive chemical processing plants will be built to produce ethanol. Has any thought been given to what happens during the next, completely natural, dust bowl like drought?

  2. stan



    The real problem I have with ethanol is the corn growers and Renewable Fuel lobbyist continue to force Americans to buy their product(with a mandate)with no freedom to chose what is best.And do not allow the free market work the way it should. This is a UN American way to do business. If ethanol is a good product they would not need the mandate to sell it. Sorry but this unfair, UN American way of marketing really bothers me.

  3. Darwin



    RE: The above comment... The ethanol industry would LOVE for the free market to control how renewable fuels are embraced by consumers. Every indication is that most consumers prefer it because it's cheaper, home-grown, clean and renewable. There are two problems though: 1. There is currently a 10-15% cap on how much ethanol the industry is allowed to blend into fuels. 2. The oil industry is not subject to the free market approach. Various regulations and subsidies in the oil industry mean that until both fuel options are allowed to compete openly in a free market, the relatively young biofuel industry needs some kind of "toe in the door" protection to insure that it (and other renewable sources) have a fighting chance at upsetting the status quo.

  4. George Nitta



    You know IF you tried E100 ethanol in your gas you would see how great it is, too many people say bad things about the ethanol with no knowledge of how great it is. You have to try the sugar cane ethanol from Brazil and see how great it works, just put in 20-30% E100 pure stuff in your tank and see the performance gain. Now if ethanol was bad then why is Brazil on it since 1955, they don't have a problem with it. I have used E100 in my 73 Pantera, 84 Chevy 1/2 ton Silverado, and 32 Ford Vicky with no gas just ethanol for the pass 4 years. I don't see any bad side affects from the ethanol. The government don't have to mandate any ethanol, if you are not using it you then it's your lost. Check out my website and listen to my live talk show every Sat on the website from 1-2 pm Hawaii time. All I have to say is I love ethanol, more power and mileage. George

  5. Alex Kovnat



    @George: As a student of automotive engineering at Lawrence Technological University from 2002 to 2007 (Attained Master of Science in Automotive Engineering), I carried out a class project on methanol as an alternative fuel during a course on engines. As a result of research I carried out on methanol, I gained an appreciation of the problems CH3OH brings about: High heat of evaporation leading to difficult starting, corrosion, and attack on elastomers used in seals. Ethanol has the same problems, but not to the same extent as methanol. So if you use 100% ethanol in your cars and light trucks, wouldn't you have a problem starting the engine particularly in cold weather? Also, special motor oils have to be used in methanol-burning engines. Do you have to use any special motor oil in your vehicles when using 100% C2H5OH?

  6. Ms22



    @Alex: Methanol is extremely corrosive to standard engines. Ethanol however, is not. They are 2 separate fuels and in all honesty, nothing alike. The only thing they have in common is that they are both alcohol and their names rhyme. Methanol is alcohol made from wood, ethanol is alcohol made from sugars. If i decided to use E100 in a mid-western environment, all that is needed to do to avoid cold starting issues is to increase engine compression, hotter ignition, high flow fuel pump, and advanced timing. I have a stock 1996 dodge ram 1500 that hasn't used anything less than 25% ethanol since i have owned it. I use Valvoline recycled oil and it starts great every time, even in cold weather (with stock parts).

  7. Steve Vander Griend



    @Alex. I would assume Gorge is talking about adding ethanol to gasoline and I would add, “Simply Adding Ethanol”. Today the oil refineries make a cheaper gasoline commonly call RBOB or CBOB that likely has 84 AKI pump octane. This fuel needs 10 percent ethanol in order to reach the minimum of 87. In a study we just publish at SAE this year, we simply added ethanol to 7 different base fuels utilizing a test engine with 3 different fuel systems. Simply adding ethanol for E0 all the way up to E100 was done with each fuel system. The first fuel system was utilized to compare how ethanol is currently tested for octane. The second was port fuel injection and the third was direct fuel injection. Even in the ethanol industry, how many of the experts still quote how ethanol is measured. They will state that E85 has roughly 108 RON, 92 MON so the AKI label should be roughly 100 at the pump. When engineers look at the results of this mentioned SAE paper, why does simply adding ethanol to consumer gasoline and creating E30 give over 100 octane performance. Mid-level blends like E30 have shown better emissions in every category and we took three vehicles to Detroit to prove this. Lower particulate emissions which most people don’t really know much about yet and under high loads, avoid retarding of timing so the mileage gap is greatly reduced. Since you mentioned you are a mechanic than you should know what happens when the vehicle’s computer senses knock limits of consumer 87 octane fuel. Interesting that even some of the experts in the ethanol industry say octane doesn’t matter but they obviously don’t know what happens to mileage when you compromise optimum ignition strategy or even emissions especially under high load. Ms22 is correct in stating that there is a significant difference from methanol to ethanol and this includes emissions. The one metal that has the most issues with corrosion is aluminum and so the issues mainly pertain to off road and small engine. Good preventative maintenance is always encouraged but not just because of ethanol, certain components of gasoline can cause damage to O-ring and gaskets as well as form deposits. Just look at some of the O-ring issues in older diesel engines when low sulfur diesel was introduced, O-ring shrinkage due to lower aromatics levels. I have charts, data and studies that can back up every part of this comment so feel free to email. Maybe you would like to see just how much variation there can be in gasoline. I see a lot of variation in the CBOB before ethanol is added and so will the consumer. Steve Vander Griend

  8. Alex Kovnat



    @Frank: I would like to see more use of nuclear power. I never get tired of telling people that if carbon dioxide buildup in our atmosphere is so great a problem as to justify draconian CAFE, its also serious enough to use nuclear power instead of coal for generating electric power. Re Ethanol: We use corn as the feedstock for ethanol production because cornstarch is more easily broken down into simple sugars for subsequent fermentation, than cellulose. But if we can solve the economic and other issues involved with cellulosic ethanol (i.e. the same C2H5OH as we now have, only the feedstock is different), we can use such readily available biomass as trimmed tree branches or decaying wood from dead trees. So I advocate that in addition to nuclear power, we also use biofuels and other measures such as improved auto design, compact fluorescent bulbs instead of incandescent light bulbs, and so on.

  9. Askndar



    Evangers Dog Food wrote an interesting post today onHere's a quick ecperxt Has anybody but me noticed what has happened in the last few months? Beer prices have gone up, way up! I last bought a six pack of Dead Guy Ale for about 7 bucks, now it is over $11! Anybody else know why? Because they are using all of the corn,wheat, and barley, etc, for making methanol, to mix with gasoline! Hey gas prices at $3.00 a gallon is one thing, beer at $11 a six pack is another! We need to all understand that when you take something from one place, it comes out of another! Thes


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