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Ethanol Blended Fuels Hurting the Environment

 

Environmental groups and our government told us that the reasons for legislating Ethanol in Gasoline were;

1. To improve the air quality and combat climate change

2. To reduce our dependency on non-renewable fossil fuels

Well, it's not working.

 

In fact, there has been no statistical difference in vehicle emissions directly due to the use of ethanol-blended fuels, and our dependency on fossil fuels has actually increased by up to 20% directly from the use of E10 (E10= 10% ethanol) blended fuels.

Add to that the replacement of food crops in favor of subsidized ethanol-producing grains, the pressure to increase crop yields to supply the demand by over-fertilization, and the increased deforestation from Malaysia to South America to expand biofuel crops is proving that Ethanol Blended Fuels are hurting our environment.

Here's why;

Myth#1

Ethanol-blended gasoline reduces the emission of greenhouse gases that damage the environment.

Prior to 1985, I might have agreed because the technology wasn't available in vehicles to manage fuel and emissions properly. However, with today's vehicles, tailpipe emissions of hydrocarbons (HC), carbon monoxide (CO), and nitrogen oxide (NOX) have been virtually eliminated with or without E10 fuels.

Multiple studies support this. In 2007, scientists at Environment Canada studied four vehicles of recent makes, testing their emissions in a range of driving conditions and temperatures. The study found no statistical difference between the greenhouse gas emissions of regular unleaded fuel and 10 percent ethanol-blended fuel.

Here's the reason why;

There have always been different qualities of fuels available on the market, and it is the manufacturer's responsibility to ensure their vehicles run cleanly on all available fuels. Since 1998, all light-duty vehicles produced for the North American market have been equipped with a computerized onboard diagnostic system (OBDII) that would continuously monitor and adjust engine controls, including air/fuel ratios, for the best emissions. Part of that system is the catalytic converter, where any leftover HC, CO, and NOX are converted to CO2 and H2O. This means switching to ethanol-blended gasoline containing up to 10% ethanol (E10 fuel) will make virtually no difference to resulting tailpipe emissions.

Myth #2

Ethanol-blended fuels reduce the production of HCs and improve fuel economy.

First, HC (Hydrocarbon) is not produced from combustion. It is unburned fuel left over from an incomplete combustion process.

In order to achieve perfect combustion, all fuel must first evaporate and blend with the perfect amount of oxygen. The resulting byproducts would be carbon dioxide and water (2 C8H18 + 25 O2 â' 16 CO2 + 18 H2O). (2 C8H18 + 25 O2 → 16 CO2 + 18 H2O). Engine builders have gone to great lengths to achieve this goal of maximum energy production because it would also mean maximum horsepower production from 87-octane gasoline and an easily marketable end product. Any leftover fuel not only means increased emissions but a reduction in potential horsepower production.

It wasn't too long ago that achieving 1hp per cubic inch was rare, but today, it is becoming the standard in many production vehicles, and each year, they are getting better at it. (Check the specifications on your vehicle)

Now, here's an interesting fact: Ethanol is a slower-burning fuel.

This means that in an engine designed perfectly for gasoline, ethanol does not have enough time to fully evaporate prior to combustion, which could result in an actual increase of HC in the exhaust system, totally contrary to what we've been sold on. Thank goodness for catalytic converters.

Myth #3

Ethanol contains oxygen and will pre-oxygenate the fuel to assist combustion.

Yes, it does contain oxygen.

The problem is that it takes time to evaporate the liquid fuel so it is readily able to blend with oxygen. Oxygenating the fuel is thought to help accelerate this process, but it is still dependent on the ethanol fuel evaporating to release this oxygen. Since ethanol is a slower-burning fuel, it is also slower to evaporate, reducing the likelihood of a perfect blend with air and leaving unmixed pockets of fuel and oxygen to enter the exhaust system.  

With today's onboard emission controls, there are oxygen sensors in the exhaust systems that are used primarily to control air/fuel ratios. If they detect additional oxygen in the system, the computer will see this as too lean of a mixture and will adjust the system to increase fuel. As a result, we are experiencing a reduction of potential fuel economy on some models, upward to 20%.

Even if you take into account the 10% ethanol in E10 fuels, we are still consuming more fuel to do the same job, leaving us with an increase in our dependency on non-renewable fossil fuels.

Myth #4

Ethanol is an octane booster to increase performance and fuel mileage.

Yes, ethanol is a high-octane fuel, and yes, as a high-octane fuel, it is used to replace previous octane-boosting additives that were harmful to the environment, but increasing octane numbers does not increase performance. An octane reading measures the ability of the fuel to resist detonating before the spark ignites the mixture. The engine designers determine the minimum octane requirement of that engine, and choosing a higher octane will give you more insurance against detonation.

The problem with using ethanol as an octane booster is its short-term effects.

Ethanol absorbs water from the atmosphere, and as ethanol absorbs water, the octane numbers begin to reduce. Most engines have been designed to perform on a minimal 87-octane fuel, which is the accepted regular grade of gasoline at the pumps. When octane readings drop to 84, serious engine damage can occur. Since 87-octane fuels contain 10% (E10 fuel) ethanol, there is no room for degradation.

 

One would think that since ethanol-blended fuels are standard at all gas pumps, today's vehicles would be able to adapt to this fuel, but in reality, only those vehicles equipped with ˜Flex-Fuel' technologies are equipped to sense the presence of high concentrations of ethanol. Plus, these vehicles are designed to detect and adapt to E85 (85% ethanol) only. E10 fuels used in these vehicles are not detected, and the same fuel strategy is maintained for using straight gasoline.

There are other issues related to the use of ethanol-blended fuels;

It is hygroscopic;

This means it absorbs water. In fact, fuel with 10 percent ethanol absorbs up to 50 times more water than standard gasoline and at a fairly rapid pace. This creates a new set of problems when storing fuel for long periods of time.

Classic cars, garden power tools, marine pleasure craft, emergency power generators, and all sorts of 4 and 2-stroke small engines have fuel systems that are vented to the atmosphere and exposed to humidity.

As the ethanol absorbs water, it causes the fuel mixture to separate (phase separation): a thick layer of gasoline mixed with a little ethanol on top, and a thinner layer on the bottom consisting of water mixed with most of the ethanol.

Steel gas tanks, steel fuel lines, and aluminum carburetor housings, once perfectly compatible with gasoline, are now corroding and rusting from being exposed to water as a result of phase separation from long-term storage.

It is a solvent;

which allows it to loosen rust and debris that might lie undisturbed in fuel systems. Since ethanol has such good solvent properties, it can more readily remove plasticizers and resins from certain materials, like tank linings, that might not be affected by gasoline alone. Loose debris will plug filters and can interfere with engine operation.

Ethanol and Methanol, at any mixture or blend percentage, have no place in motorized products specifically designed for gasoline. There are no long-term benefits for the environment, the vehicles, or the consumer, only expensive disadvantages.

In fact, I don't understand why our environmental groups and governments are still identifying gasoline-powered consumer transportation vehicles as gross polluters. The solution to that problem is already in place. With OBDII-compliant vehicles producing near-zero harmful emissions and mandatory emissions testing in specific regions to ensure continued compliance, we have measured and proven that it is working.

 

It's not like our government didn't know these problems existed; they did know. This is why ethanol-containing fuel is not permitted to be used in any aircraft.

To me, this has been a huge political blunder. Even our environmental groups and lobbyists didn't do their homework before lobbying the government to make E10 fuel mandatory across our nation.

How many powered garden tools are ending up in landfills, how many $1,500.00 electric fuel pumps in vehicles are being replaced, and how many classic car fuel systems are being destroyed due to the effects of ethanol?

Why wasn't the consumer warned of the disadvantages and given preventative measures at every station selling this product? (But, then again, that would have been political suicide.)

Did you notice that over the last 15 years, when the transition to Ethanol blended fuels was starting to gather steam, the fuel companies didn't get involved with politics to protect their positions in the market? I believe they knew the effects of using ethanol would actually increase our dependency on petroleum fuels because of the reduced fuel mileage the driving consumer would experience.

Could they not design engines that are fully designed for ethanol?

Of course, they can.

The problem is that in order to take full advantage of 100% ethanol, rather than just a reprogramming of the fuel management system, the mechanics of the engines must be totally changed. This means it could never run safely on gasoline or gasoline blends. In addition, ethanol is still in low production and is not readily available in large volumes at stations across North America. In the meantime, E10 fuel is our only choice, and E15 may be just around the corner.

 

All this is not new. Over the last ten years, the internet has been buzzing with complaints, warnings, and preventive measures on the use of Ethanol blends. There are now many companies producing additives that claim to resist the harmful effects of Ethanol in gasoline, but I don't believe any of these products have been tested for their effect on the environment. Maybe their fix is worse than what we had before E10.

When asked directly about these problems, our government spokespersons deflect the arguments by referring to 'The Global Picture' of reducing CO2 production to combat global warming. Okay, let's look at that argument.

Myth #5

The use of ethanol can reduce net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by up to 100%

To start with, contrary to what some people are being allowed to believe, this has nothing to do with bad vehicle emissions. In an internal combustion engine, burning any carbon-based fuel efficiently (this includes ethanol) will release carbon dioxide. In fact, carbon dioxide output is a measurement of combustion efficiency. When we merge one carbon atom (C) with two oxygen atoms (O2), we create CO2. If we can manage to process all the fuel successfully and cleanly, the end result emission would be CO2 and H2O (water).

What they're talking about is our planet's environment. So, let's look at that.

Fact #1; All animals (including us humans) emit carbon dioxide through just breathing and all plant life absorbs carbon dioxide.

Fact #2; Plants continue to process carbon dioxide to release the oxygen and store the carbon and unprocessed carbon dioxide through its roots and into the soil. When we harvest and process plant material or dig up the stored carbon, we release the carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.

Now, let's look at their logic:

"Use of ethanol can reduce net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by up to 100%, on a full life-cycle basis. The use of 10% ethanol-blended fuels results in a 6-10% reduction in net CO2. The carbon dioxide released from ethanol production activities and inputs, and its use, is less than that absorbed by the plants used to produce ethanol and the soil organic matter. The carbon dioxide produced during ethanol production and gasoline combustion is extracted from the atmosphere by plants for starch and sugar formation during photosynthesis. It is assimilated by the crop in its roots, stalks, and leaves, which usually return to the soil to maintain organic matter, or to the grain, the portion currently used to produce ethanol. Over time, the organic matter breaks down to carbon dioxide, but with the implementation of soil conservation measures, such as reduced tillage, the soil organic matter will build up. Therefore, by increasing its organic matter content, the soil acts as a significant sink for carbon dioxide."

So, from what they are saying, the key is not disturbing the soil, and I agree.

The problem is that we not only process the grain through fermentation, which creates volumes of CO2, but we also process the plant, releasing captured CO2, and we also till the soil, preparing for the next crop, which releases all the stored CO2 from the soil. This cycle eradicates any of the benefits we've been sold on.

Now, to make matters even worse, other countries have also been sold on this money-making venture by allowing massive deforestation in tropical regions in favor of environmentally beneficial farmlands for ethanol-producing crops or food crops to fill shortages created by North American farms now growing ethanol-producing grains. Shockingly, this deforestation is the primary reason why Indonesia and Brazil are now the third and fourth largest C02 emitters on the planet, respectively, and they signed the Kyoto Protocol agreeing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It's no wonder Canada pulled out.

Stop this insanity!

Ethanol-blended fuels are hurting our planet.

Yes, our environment is out of balance, and yes, we must continue to find ways to bring it back in balance. However, this present system is just accelerating our bleak future.

 So, what do we do?

 First, do some of your own research, so you'll know I'm not just blowing hot air. I have added a few links below that I have used to get you started.

Next, because this is too important to ignore, pass this article on to everybody who will listen. Hopefully, public opinion and the facts will force our government to take another look at what's happening. But I think we will have to act quickly because Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has proposed the elimination of federal climate change accountability and reporting mechanisms within a law tied to the 2012 budget.

If you wish to contact your Federal or Provincial representative or offices, you can use our Link Library to help source the contact information you need.

 

Here are some ideas I hope will be adopted;

1. Remove mandatory E10 fuels for all fuel companies and Provinces.

a. This will remove the pressure of supplying a forced demand for ethanol and get the farmers back to producing food crops. I just read in the news that because of a shortage of organic foods, they are looking at increasing deforestation to increase crop sizes and looking at genetically altered plants for increased yields. (Is this the demise of organic farming?)

b. Going back to straight gasoline will increase the fuel economy for the drivers. This alone will reduce our present demand for fossil fuels by up to, nearly 20% and still maintain near-zero emissions

c. The surplus will make E85 fuel more readily available for Flex Fuel vehicles.

d. Increasing the supply could open the doors to creating engines that are designed to run on 100% ethanol for use in true hybrid vehicles or converted diesel applications

 

2. Expand mandatory vehicle emissions testing to all communities across Canada

a. Because vehicle emissions are at the center of this controversy, we can easily remove them as a major contributor by ensuring they run clean.

b. BC's AirCare program was working, and we had been able to measure the air quality differences since its inception to prove it. The problem is that this program was only in the Greater Vancouver region, and, at this time, the only other area in Canada is Ontario's Drive Clean program in southern Ontario. Since BC's AirCare program had the highest standards and was the most manageable in North America, it could have been the blueprint for all provinces and communities here in Canada.

c. Since 1998, all light-duty vehicles produced or new vehicles imported for this market are OBDII compliant. This simplifies emissions testing procedures, making the transition to mandatory testing in all communities economically feasible.

3. Ensure that all pre-owned 1996 and newer vehicles imported to this market are OBDII compliant.

a. There has been an increase in the number of imported used vehicles from countries with lower emission standards. This loophole can be closed by ensuring all vehicles insured for our roads follow the same rules.

 

 I am not opposed to ethanol as a fuel. On the contrary, ethanol is still a viable alternative to fossil fuels.

What I am opposed to is using ethanol to solve a vehicle emission problem that we have already solved and must continue to expand the solution across this country to finally remove the family car as an excuse to continue this insanity.

We will then have no choice but to turn our attention to the next level of 'gross emitters,' specifically coal and diesel-fired production, manufacturing, and electricity-generating industries while continuing to tighten emission levels for diesel-powered transportation.

If ethanol is here to stay, it becomes imperative to find not only higher-yielding plants for the production of ethanol but also perennial crops (no need for replanting) and crops that do not require the use of valuable food-producing farmland. There are many contenders that outperform existing fuel-producing crops, but the one I find most interesting is cattails.

Finally, there are so many things we can do as individuals to combat the rising CO2 levels in our atmosphere, which are increasing the likelihood of global warming, but the biggest and simplest solution that has stared us in the face for decades is planting trees.

 

We must look at reforestation as the single, most important repair we can easily do for our environment and deforestation as an environmental disaster.

 

References:

Ethanol Fuel (Wikipedia)

Ethanol-blend auto emissions no greener than gasoline: study (CBC News)

The Case Against Biofuels: Probing Ethanol's Hidden Costs (Environment 360)

The Forest for the Trees: Ethanol and Deforestation (Environmental Capital)

U.S. ethanol may drive Amazon deforestation (mongabay.com)

Ethanol fuel problems in small engines (YouTube)

Boaters WARNING ! "Ethanol" the engine killer .....Jeff the Boat Doctor shows you what happens

Emissions Impact of Ethanol (1/12/2000)

Flex Fuel Vehicles: Advantages and Disadvantages (carsdirect.com)

The Consumer Guide to E85 Ethanol Vehicles (howstuffworks.com)

Carbon Dioxide (Wikipedia)

Kyoto Protocol (Wikipedia)

Ethanol-Powered Saab Diesel

Ontario's Drive Clean Program

BC's AirCare Program

Ethanol Blended Gas = Lower Mileage

The Great Ethanol Debate (Consumer Reports)

Motor Gasoline Fuels (Irish Aviation Authority)

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