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.