Polls: US Drivers Support Expansion of E85 Refueling Network; Have Misconception on Fuel Price

26 June 2006

The House of Representatives will soon vote on a bill that would significantly increase the number of gas stations with ethanol or E85 fuel pumps nationwide. According to a just-completed series of snap polls conducted across the Autobytel online network, slightly more than half of the respondents support a “yes” vote on this measure.

Fifty-one percent of poll-takers say the government should pay for the expansion of E85 pumps across the nation while only 28% said it shouldn’t. The remainder admit they’re not informed enough to say.

Asked to name the single best thing the government could do to reduce the country’s dependence on oil,

• 35% named funding research for alternative fuel technologies;
• 32% named funding E85 pumps at more gas stations;
• 22% named raising CAFE standards; and
• 12% named increasing the tax incentive for hybrid vehicle buyers.

Although Autobytel’s car shoppers may be pinning a lot of hope on ethanol as an energy solution, at least some of this optimism may stem from some very basic misconceptions about the fuel. Nearly half (47%) of the car shoppers polled by Autobytel thought they would spend less to drive with E85 fuel, while only 32% understood that they’d spend more versus gasoline for the same amount of driving.

Not only does ethanol deliver worse fuel mileage than gasoline, but currently the price has risen sharply in some markets. The spot price for ethanol last week jumped to $5 per gallon, then settled back to the$4.00 and upper-$3.00 range. Drivers may be in for a shock when they see E85 prices advertised at the local gas station—and when they realize that less-fuel-efficient E85 would have to cost about 20% less than gas to break even. It also suggests, in turn, that US automakers’ marketing of ethanol-capable vehicles may become a harder sell as drivers become aware of E85 costs. Not surprisingly, 62% of the shoppers surveyed by Autobytel said they wouldn’t pay a penny more, per mile of driving, to achieve ethanol’s potential benefits of increased fuel independence and improved emissions. —Autobytel Other data points from Autobytel’s new automotive consumer polls: • 65% of car shoppers agree that we are in the midst of an energy crisis, similar to that during the 1970s. • Only 35% say their current vehicle gets at least 25 mpg—and only 16% say that their current ride gets at least 30 mpg. Yet 71% say that their next vehicle purchase must get at least 25 mpg, and 43% say it will have to get better than 30 mpg. 15% say it will have to get at least 40 mpg. • When asked to describe their general impression of hybrid vehicles, 39% replied “too expensive for the hybrid benefit” and an additional 28% selected “not a real solution, more of a statement.” • 72% think that Congress should raise CAFE standards for the automakers. The number of responses to each poll varied, but averaged around 580. Comments If I could get one point across to the American people it would be: We don't have enough ethanol for E85 on a nationwide basis, and there is no reasonable plan to get us there. We are far better off working on two other short term goals: more efficient ethanol production, and E10 everywhere. These two articles explain why in more detail: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1629 http://www.financialsense.com/fsu/editorials/rapier/2006/0623.html Again, focusing on the CARRIER FUEL is missing the point. Ethanol or no ethanol, we need to find an alternative PRIMARY FUEL to oil. With apologies to our intellectually-challenged leaders, FOOD is not a good PRIMARY FUEL. WASTE is a great PRIMARY FUEL. Unfortunately, the waste lobby is way smaller than the agricultural lobby... This poll mirrors what I have seen. One of the local Austin Texas news channels had a story about a new E85 pump going in, and stated how it (in the news story) would be selling E85 (gasohol?) at 15-20 cents cheaper than regular gas. But the story did not say anything about E85 being 20-30% less fuel efficient than regular, or did not touch on how difficult it would be to produce enough ethanol for E85 nationally. The news story led us to believe E85 was an exact replacement for gasoline, with no drawbacks, at 15-20 cents cheaper. This just proves to me how strong the farm ethanol lobbyists are, and as to what facts get relayed. E10 would be a better goal to shoot for, or if we are to follow this biofuel route, butanol would be a better solution in my opinion. To me, the big news here is that 72% support raising CAFE. Lawmakers already know it's right and if 72% of the public supports it, this would be a great way to do what's right and be loved by almost 3 out of 4 voters for it. I tend to agree that E10 everywhere is far better than E85 in some places, especially since E10 everywhere can be tweaked upward easily enough. As far as the Feds paying for E85 pumps to be installed, why not just do this: 1. Pick some states for ethanol, based on location of creation and location of current fleet of flexfuel cars. Indiana, Illinois, et al. 2. Require that x% of all new fueling stations install E85 pumps in the states outlined in (1). How to enforce? Require that the x% apply to every brand. If x = 50, that means that for every 2 Exxon/Mobil stations built or significantly remodelled/altered in the entire region defined in (1), one had better have E85 pumps. 3. Over time, increase the size of the area in (1) and the value x in (2). Don't make it arbitrary -- make the plan clear years in advance, and allow gasoline brands to "get ahead" by counting new E85 pumps in areas not yet in (1). This costs the Federal Gov't$0.00. By rolling out the region in (1) wisely they can grab the low hanging fruit and put a constant carrot in front of consumers. It would put all the (risk averse) major gas companies on equal footing regarding E85 for all of them in equal proportions. It would also help potential E85 distillers have a much better sense as to the direction of the marketplace, reducing risk and encouraging more E85 distillation.

Again: The best way to decrease fuel prices is to use less oil, be that through effiency increases or through conservation measures like driving less.

My ride gets infinite miles per gallon: I walk.

When you walk you are using up Natural Gas. Most of the fertilizer used in making food is made from natural gas.

Wintermane -

somehow I don't get the impression Americans are starving at the current level of ethanol production. The other main use of corn is cattle feed, so producing more ethanol domestically would raise the price of beef as well as that of ethanol. In terms of population health, reducing red meat consumption might not be a bad idea. CO2 emissions would go down, too. Of course, the cattle ranchers and fast food addicts will surely disagree...

http://www.cmonitor.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060623/REPOSITORY/606230343/1029/OPINION03

In addition, if corn really were to become scarce, more ethanol could easily be imported from Brazil if the protectionist tariff were dropped. In the present situation, E85 is purely a boondoggle for the ethanol industry and a figleaf for the Big Three and the pols who granted them their CAFE loophole. E10, or better yet, nationwide would be a far more sensible target.

Btw, replacing ethanol with butanol production should eliminate a lot of the extra cost associated with ethanol logistics. Both can be produced from corn and other sugar-rich feedstocks, but only ethanol requires flex-fuel features. Combined with approriate tax changes reflecting carbon sources and sinks, it should become possible for consumers to choose biofuels at little or no premium over mineral fuels.

Producing fuel from waste is possible and sensible but still very expensive. Maintaining product quality within a narrow tolerance band at a high level is hard enough with crude oil, just imagine how much harder it must be with household weaste. More prosaically, waste can simply be burnt in special facilites to generate electricity.

For the purpose of producing automotive fuels, it may therefore make more sense to grow dedicated energy crops such as switchgrass or algae, once the infrastructure for converting them is available. Sunlight is after all the ultimate primary fuel.

"My ride gets infinite miles per gallon: I walk."

You will probably inadvertently improve your health as a side effect. This could force you to buy smaller clothes, lower your health bills, and increase your life. Are you sure you are ready for all of that?

This is another "nail in the coffin" for diesel powered cars in the US. The E85 pumps will crowd out diesel fuel at CORNer gas stations.

Where is there a "Wintermane" in the above thread? Did I miss something?

And to Icelander, have you ever walked 18 miles, one way, to work in Southwest Texas in late July, wearing a black three piece business suit, carrying a 10 pound briefcase, or to its equivalent? Or for that matter, walk 50 miles to work in Central Alaska in mid January, or to its equivalent?

The reference to walking is un-needed here as everyone knows the obvious, but there are practical concerns to be met by using a "vehicle".

Back on subject, the majority of the consuming public (unlike the regular contributors to this site) are unaware of the drawbacks to E85, and will be in for a rude awakening when they do become aware of it. The farm lobbyists, and GM to a degree, are to blame for promising a little and not telling the whole story.

Walking...
A good idea for Americans.
Even the daily hamburger is served to the car.

Fanatic against smoking, but moving, even walk...?

that's too painful for many Americans. Last time I was in Florida (2001) I was shocked by those many fat and ugly people. Really a copy of degeneration.

Mark A -

sorry, my mistake. The post I was responding to was by "An Engineer".

Tony -

E85 pumps are unlikely to be around for very long unless either the fuel becomes cheaper (better technology, zero import tariff) or taxpayers decide they are willing to subsidize it even more heavily. For one thing, ethanol is hygroscropic and if the E85 fuel goes unsold for too long, the gas station's storage tank may start to rust.

Changing the formulation of regular gasoline such that it must contain a certain proportion (10% max) of biofuel requires no additional distribution infrastructure, no changes to existing vehicles (except classic cars), improves emissions and has only minimal impact on fuel cost and vehicle range. One snag is that ethanol must be transported by rail or truck as inter-refinery pipelines must not be exposed to corrosive media (see above).

Note that starchy feedstocks (corn, sugar beets, sugar cane, certain algae) can also be turned into butanol. This has virtually the same octane rating and energy density as mineral gasoline and, is hardly hygroscopic it presents no corrosion risk to pipelines. BP and Du Pont are ramping up to produce this alcohol in the UK, where it was used during WW2.

Btw, perhaps this would be a good time to mention that while (bio)diesel contains 10-15% MORE energy per gallon than gasoline. BTU for BTU, both fuels cost about the same, but diesel engines feature higher thermodynamic efficiency because the intake is unthrottled. Ergo, you would spend LESS per mile when running on diesel. It's currently a moot point only because no-one can offer an affordable diesel car or light truck that can meet the new US emissions regs.

Mark- I walked the Bataan Death March military heavy while carrying 1.5 gallons of gatorade (which does not count for your weight total so the weight is added on top of the minimum required for military heavy). Easily comparable to 18 miles one way in any part of Texas (in fact I used to run 5-7 miles every other day in the summer heat of El Paso at ~3500ft elevation)...but really, if you didn't CHOOSE to live 18 miles away from where you work this wouldn't be a problem. I see very little reason for the majority of the population to live more than 5 miles from their place of work. (notice I said majority...not every single person disregarding every special instance, just the simple majority).

http://www.energy.ca.gov/gasoline/graphs/ethanol_10-year.html

Producing fuel from waste is possible and sensible but still very expensive.
Expensive is a relative term. Crude oil is getting expensive. Corn ethanol, absent all those generous subsidies, would be very expensive. As we run out of landfill space, waste->fuel gets cheaper from the supply side. Add to that improvements in technology, and it is only going one way...

Maintaining product quality within a narrow tolerance band at a high level is hard enough with crude oil, just imagine how much harder it must be with household weaste.
Depends on the technolgy. With gasification-Fisher/Tropsch you first produce syngas which has to be cleaned anyway. After that you actually produce synthetic hydrocarbons that are much cleaner than fossil fuels: no sulfur or aromatics.

More prosaically, waste can simply be burnt in special facilites to generate electricity.
Electricity is cheap and abundant. Liquid fuels are expensive and scarce. Hence it is more profitable and usueful to convert waste into liquid fuels.

The best thing that can be said for E85 is that it is predominantly a domestic fuel. If you are willing to pay the premium (personally, I'm not), you are helping the balance of payments.

If it were close to an even wash and I had an E85 vehicle, I'd be willing to support domestic agriculture. But for the most part, E85 comes from smart/handsome lobbying by ADM.

I am not in the new car market at the moment. If I were, flexfuel would not be a major determinant of model selection.

Current import duty on ethanol (Brazil, Venezuela):100%
Current import duty on crude oil: 0%
Number of 4 cylinder flex fuel vehicles
available in the U.S. :0

Actually biking/walking would be off-topic, were it not for the food/fuel decision implicit in corn ethanol production. For what it's worth, some related discussion in the last couple days here:

cleverchimp

I do plenty of walking even though I like to drive and am a die-hard motorhead. I like cars and dream of having a Pontiac Firebird to fix up and restore. Yet...I still like to walk.

Anyway, I've been saying in previous posts that the CAFE standars should be raised. Why not have every passenger car or SUV getting 30-50 mpg instead of a few?

My ride gets infinite miles per gallon: I walk.

Unless you're walking barefoot and only eating food grown in your own backyard without any fertilizer, you're using some oil.

Sure, not much. You probably get thousands of miles per gallon. But, so long as walking wears out shoes made out of rubber transported halfway around the world, and so long as exercise requires caloric intake, you're bound to use some oil in the equation.

Instead of nitpicking, why don't we just acknowledge that Patrick is doing a good thing and making the roads more roomy for those who like/need to drive.

In my working years, I made it a practice (back to 1975) to never live more than five miles from work. I paid extra for the privilege but for me it was worthwhile. It expands your options, including walking and bicyling. When I bicyled to work that I needed exercise anyway; this way I killed two birds with one stone. The extra time required was minimal if I subtracted the time I would have been exercising anyway.

I don't know if the majority can live 5 miles or less from work, but I do know that a lot of my cohorts were very explicit about why they lived far from work. They wanted a very large house in the suburbs. So, this was a choice, not a basic need or a situation where a poor person had no other alternatives. These were not poor people, nor are most of Americans poor people.

Of course, house prices have gotten even more outrageous in most places in the last several years. So maybe things have changed.

I also had a boss who said he liked his long commute because it gave him time to think. It seemed to me I could just as easily do my thinking at home with the extra time I had.

It took only 3 years for Brazil to convert 30,000 out of 34,000 gas stations to sell Ethanol.

A good effort by American can help to achieve that level. Its sad that there is 100 % import duty on Ethanol, but 0 % duty on Crude oil.

The thing about ethanol is that they plan to also start making it from other sources. Sych as switchgrass a source that requires NO pesticles no water no fertilizers.. just mow it.

Maybe they might even manage to use kudzu...

It will at least help.

Eventualy they expect the engine to go bye bye and a fuel cell to take its place... ethanol works very well for that as a source of h2.

Oh and the reason a fuel cell will take over is it shouldnt take long before a fuel cell is cheaper then a transmission and an engine and radiator and all that stuff... and alot more efficeint too.

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