## GM Expands E85 Effort into Pennsylvania

##### 10 July 2006

General Motors announced that it has facilitated plans for the addition of three new E85 fueling sites in the Pittsburgh area, through a collaborative partnership with VeraSun Energy Corporation, Sheetz, Inc. and the State of Pennsylvania.

GM has been the catalyst behind several similar collaborative partnerships across the country and began an initiative with VeraSun in February as part of a broader, national campaign to boost the use and awareness of E85—85% ethanol and 15% gasoline—in the United States.

VeraSun Energy, the nation’s second-largest ethanol producer, will supply its VE85 brand of E85 to select Sheetz stores in the Pittsburgh area beginning this week and expanding to two additional stores by later this year.

The announcement marks the fourth collaboration in four states that GM and VeraSun have entered with a third-party retailer since the companies began working together to promote awareness of E85 ethanol-based fuel. The first initiative, launched last May in Sioux Falls, S.D., promoted VE85 pumps in seven prominent local stations. In the Chicago metro area, what began as a 20-location effort in February has already expanded to include 32 sites, and the initial four outlets in Minneapolis-St. Paul have grown to 16 in the last four months.

General Motors says that it will continue to spend significant advertising and promotion dollars to help generate awareness of E85 flexible fuel vehicles—and where consumers can purchase E85 ethanol—with consumer marketing initiatives and dealer outreach.

Since May 2005, GM has announced partnerships with states and fuel providers around the country to locate, to date, over 160 new E85 ethanol fueling locations.

I cannot help but wonder what the general public makes of this. Do they honestly think that they will save money with E85? A gas guzzler is still a gas guzzler on E85.

I predict that this push by GM for flex-fuel vehicles will only last a year or two. Maybe GM will be in chapter 11 by then.

I cannot help but wonder what the general public makes of this. Do they honestly think that they will save money with E85? A gas guzzler is still a gas guzzler on E85.

People choose their car every 3 to 10 years. People choose their petrol every 3 to 10 days. If they can get more miles per dollar on E85 than on gasoline -- regardless of just how many miles that is -- then they will choose to do so. Furthermore, shouldn't we be encouraging them to do just that?

The amount of oil necessary to move a car running E85 1 mile is less than the amount of oil necessary to move a car running gasoline 1 mile. Not by much, mind you -- but by a little. Still, anything Americans do to consume less oil -- even by a little -- is a good thing. It's good for domestic policy, foreign policy, environmental policy, and economic policy.

If GM's actions tickle more E85 supply and more E85 demand, then they've done something that benefits tUSA.

I cannot understand all of this push towards "environmentally friendly" E-85 fuel.
EVERYONE knows that it radically increases the fuel consumption of any vehicle it's put it. For example, the E.P.A. has stated that a Nissan 4X4 Titan truck which normally gets around 14 m.p.g. city and 18 m.p.g.highway will see the former drop to around 10 m.p.g. and the latter to 13 m.p.g.

Consider a gallon of E85. That 0.15 gallons of ethanol content requires the energy of 0.3 gallons of gasoline to make it! Next, if this vehicle is driven on the highway it consumes 38% more fuel!
1) Net conventional gasoline input: 1 gallon
2) Net gasoline input for E85:
1.38(0.85 gal gasoline+ 2(.15))= 1.587 gallons of
gasoline consumed!

Hey greenies: Put regular gas in your car and you'll burn 37% less gasoline overall. Isn't that going to cut down on all of that evil carbon dioxide you keep complaining about?

The 16 to 18 year old A.P. Physics students I teach can do this sort of research and math pretty easily. Why is it our so-called energy experts who work for the Government cannot see this; why is there such a poor grasp of the Laws of Thermodynamics?

I think 2 words pretty much sum up our national collective knowledge in this area:

Imperial Rome!

Dave, E85 is 85 percent alcohol. Yes, gets much worse mileage.

The pols don't do thermodynamics, they do campaign contributions and votes.  Ethanol gets lots of farm votes and ADM dollars.

In politics, money talks, thermo walks.  If only the Constitution allowed laws and regulations to be challenged in court if the findings of "fact" beind them were wrong...

Dave,

There's also the geopolitical issue to consider. It's not only about fuel economy and economics, though those are very important considerations. Reducing the amount of money we send to Middle East nations who would rather see us dead is a good idea. I'm not saying we should pursue ethanol at all costs as a result, but that even if it's slightly suboptimal in terms of economy, there are other positive reasons for pursuing alternatives to oil-based gasoline.

I agree that right now the economics of ethanol don't make sense even in the era of $70 oil, but economies of scale could change that, both in terms of E85 production and of engines that are better suited to burning it. And unfortunately we can't just turn on a switch and suddenly have all the infrastructure in place as soon as economics favor E85 (if that happens in the future), so some of it needs to be built out ahead of time. heres some simple math for you guys... gas vehicle gets 20 mpg and on E85 gets 14.6 (27% lower) 20 mpg * 110000 btu/gal gasoline = 5500 btu/mile 14.6 mpg e85 * 78000 btu/gal e85 = 5300 btu/mile result e85 take the same heat per mile as gas... do your homework and see through the BS and misinformation. Dave. While I think Ethanol is a bad idea, too, where did you get your EROIE of (.5). Plus, E85 requires .85 gallon of ethanol, not (.15). rfh. What is the relevance of btu/mile in this discussion. The fact remains that ethanol has a much lower energy content than gasoline. If ethanol got even worse miles per gallon and had an even lower btu content, you would still end up with comparable btus per mile. You can take this scenario all the way down to 1 mile per gallon. Dave: 1. As Bud points out, a gallon of E85 has 0.85 gallons of ethanol in it, not 0.15. 2. Ethanol does not require 2x its volume in gasoline to produce. A statement to that effect is a simple untruth. The amount of energy required to produce a gallon of finished ethanol depends on the feedstock and exact production method used. Even in current US production, the economics of the situation make clear that large amounts of gasoline are not used. Ethanol currently trades, on the CBOT spot market, at$3.50 per gallon. (FN1). Gasoline trades on its NYMEX spot market at around $2.20 per gallon. Other major petroleum based fuels trade at a similar$2/gal range. If ethanol really required two gallons of gasoline to produce, it would cost upwards of $5.50 per gallon ($4.40 for the petroleum, $1 for the corn, etc.). It does not cost that much, therefore it is not consuming that much gasoline to produce. In fact, ethanol requires very little *gasoline* or petroleum input at all. It *does* require other fossil fuel inputs, however. Coal is most commonly used to supply energy for the distillation process, natural gas is used to create fertilizer, and yes, some diesel is used by the tractors to plant and harvest the corn, and trucks or railroads to transport the final products. In spite of all that energy input, ethanol production from corn is still regarded as moderately energy positive. (FN3). That is, more energy overall comes out of the system than is put into it from manmade sources. The "gain" comes from the sun, as the growning plants capture energy by photosynthesis, and eventually yield it up as useable ethanol or byproducts. Sugarcane ethanol -- typical in Brazil -- is highly energy positive at present, and cellulostic ethanol, produced using recently developed enzymes, has finally become an economic reality, at least at the pilot-plant scale. (FN4). 3. Tim makes a point which I have also agreed with for some time now. Groundwork has to be put in place in advance if we hope to take advantage of expected advances in ethanol production. It is a classic chicken-and-egg problem -- that's why FFVs have been running for years on gasoline (and getting CAFE credits) while lacking of an E85 infrastructure, and that's why E85 pumps are being installed across the midwest even while we go through a temporary ethanol supply crunch caused by the switchover from MTBE. I disagree with his assessment, though, that conventional ethanol does not make economic sense at the moment.$70 oil means $2.20 gasoline (before taxes), and with the typical production costs of ethanol in the$2.00 range (before tax credits), that's in the realm of economic sense. Burning coal is a minus, reduced foreign oil and increased domestic cash flow is a plus. Moderate positive energy balance is a plus. Cleaner combustion exhaust is a plus. Weigh it out and take your pick.

4. As many on this forum like to point out, the best use for ethanol at the moment is probably cutting it into gasoline at a ratio of 10% -- E10. Virtually any car can run on that -- it boosts octane, cleans exhaust, and requires less infrastructure. Since we don't have enough ethanol at present to even constitute 10% of American gasoline volume, purusing such a course should occupy us for some time. However, the point of the programs mentioned in this post is just that -- to go out of the way to build extra infrastructure, in anticipation of the day when you will have more than enough ethanol to cut into gas at a 10% ratio, and will want to start burning E85 widely. Also, ethanol is hard to transport, as it cannot be fed into ordinary long-distance petroleum pipelines due to corrosion problems. Thus, it might make economic sense to start burning E85 in the midwest (where it is produced) before shipping extra ethanol to the coasts in an effort to get all the gasoline up to E10 -- depends on shipping costs. The midwest should therefore prepare to burn E85 even before all of New York, New England, Florida and California are uniformly up to E10. Which they have been doing.

5. Fuel economy -- miles per gallon of product -- while driving an FFV on E85 is now lower than while driving the same car (or more likely pickup truck) on conventional gasoline. That is a function of two things. First is the lower energy content of ethanol. Second is the optimization of current FFV engines towards gasoline and away from ethanol. That allows the first factor to tranlate into lower MPG. An ethanol-optimized engine can theoretically get just about as many miles per gallon of ethanol as a gasoline optimized engine can get from a gallon of gas, despite the lower ethanol energy content, due to ethanol's higher octane-equivalence. (FN5). That allows higher compression ratios and more efficient thermodynamic operation -- an ethanol engine uses more of its input energy for useful work when compared to a similar gasoline engine. Again -- a chicken-and-egg problem. You can't optimize an FFV for ethanol if its owner will use gasoline most of the time, because then it would burn the fuel of choice less efficiently and people would flee it. But ethanol can't make inroads unless its cost-per-mile does not exceed that of gasoline. Hence the short term solution of tax credits and marketing pushes, to get E85 available and established. Once you get past that first hurdle, you can start to offer FFVs optimized for E85 instead of gasoline, and take it from there.

6. All that being said, I'm not convinced that ethanol is the complete solution to all our problems. Neither is hydrogen. But I have become convinced that ethanol is a viable product and a worthwhile partial-solution. It buys us time to improve hybrid and battery technologies, which I think will become a very significant part of the automotive future. It also can be produced at substantial volumes in a somewhat sustainable manner. Its production inputs are amenable to "greening" -- the coal that is burned to run the distilleries can be replaced with green electricity from any given source, when it becomes available. Ethanol widens our energy base, allowing us to turn to domestic sources and alternative foreign suppliers of energy (Brazil, for the moment), instead of the usual middle eastern suspects. It is also "broad based" at the production level. Unlike the highly capital intensive petroleum system, ethanol can be produced economically on a smaller scale by independent operators. Major agribusiness is certainly involved (ADM), but smaller players -- consortia of individual farmers -- are able to compete from bottom to top as well; grow all the corn, build the distillery, market the ethanol directly to blenders and retail chains. That keeps the market a bit more honest and "market like," and less distorted than what we typically see with oil.

FN1: http://www.cbot.com/
FN2: http://www.wtrg.com/daily/gasolineprice.html
FN3: http://www.greencarcongress.com/2006/01/uc_berkeley_stu.html
FN4: http://www.greencarcongress.com/2006/05/goldman_sachs_i.html
FN5: http://www.greencarcongress.com/2004/12/saab_biopower_f.html

t:

The point about BTUs I think is this:

If the cost per gallon is the same, then consumers will pick the fuel with highest miles per gallon. But cost can always be manipulated through taxes.

If cost is not the issue, but energy efficiency is, then ethanol wins. Assume ethanol and gasoline get the same miles/BTUs in a conventional FFV. If ethanol production is net energy positive (which it is), then you get more miles in the end, because you have more BTUs than when you started, and each BTU will take you just as far. If you optimize your FFV for ethanol, then you will get *more* miles per BTU than in an equivalent gasoline-optimized engine. Then you win twice: More BTUs due to energy-positive ethanol production, and more miles per BTU due to optimization. Now you just have to adjust your tax policy to make sure all this gets reflected in the price of each fuel.

Of course, it isn't quite this simple. The energy positive nature of conventional corn ethanol is calculated based not only on the energy content of the ethanol output, but also on the value of the residual protein and oil byproducts, which are often used as animal feed. That's not illegitimate -- animal feed would have to be produced by some other means anyway -- just more complicated.

Also, fossil energy input into ethanol is not gasoline, but coal and natural gas. The former creates more problems than gasoline when burned, the latter less. On the other hand, to use either of those fuels for road transport would require either CNG vehicles (range, weight and infrastructure problems) or xTL converion plants, which consume plenty of energy themselves.

In an important sense, ethanol is a "carrier" fuel. It allows us to turn non-roadworthy energy sources (coal, natural gas, sunshine, possibly wind electricity, if used to run a distillery) into a road-capable liquid fuel. As such, you have to compare it to the alternative methods of creating road-capable liquid fuels, or supplanting such fuels entirely. Those include: Petroleum refining, Fischer-Tropsch xTL, biodiesel, steam locomotives, electric vehicles (plug in cars or scooters, as well as conventional electric streetcars and trains), more efficient use of fuels in conventionally-styled private vehicles (smaller engines/cars, hybrids), public transport and non-motor transport (bike/walk/horse). In many respects, ethanol is not a bad option, compared to what else we have on the table. Not the best in all respects, but not bad. In addition to the environmental implications of each of the above options, you can also get into the whole energy-security, domestic production, foreign wars discussion.

So, the original point: investigating energy efficiency by looking at BTUs is an important yardstick for estimating what other inputs and impacts a likely transportation source is going to have. Most of us regard things like affordability, local air quality, global environmental impact, sustainability, national security and domestic economic development as the real important outcomes in our lives. Miles/BTU is not, for most people, an important end-result, but it is probably a good yardstick to help measure and disentangle some of the complications we face, and clear up some of the choices we have to make. That's the point.

The corporate "drooling" over E85 and its marketing to the exclusion of other, better technologies and smaller displacement motors is troubling. Diesel moves this planet now and for the foreseeable future and biodiesel should be getting at least as much attention. Someone said earlier that "some" diesel is used in production and transport...transport also includes returning the empties on the dreaded "backhaul".

Dang! I stand corrected about what exactly defines E85 fuel.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E85

Therefore, here are my corrected numbers:

1) Net gasoline input: 1 gallon
2) Net gasoline input for E85:
1.38(0.15 gal gasoline + 2(.85))= 2.553 gallons of gasoline consumed!

I was not only wrong in my first calculations but WAY too optimistic as to what the true economic costs are
for this fuel.

The primary problem we have with these "fuels" is they are so subsidized by the Government that it is very difficult to calculate the true market costs and energy consumption of the manufacturing process. Few people even want to address this. Each interest group such as ADM, environmentalists, et al, are all guilty of producing disinformation to the point we all could discuss this until we're blue in the face and still not have the right data. I believe this is called "junk science".

The way to settle this issue is to find answers for the following points: If ethanol was not subsidized by the Government, would the manufacturers of this product even be in business? I would like to know the value per gallon of all subsidies, plus the added economic cost of increased demand due to the refineries having to use all of this ethanol so as to comply with Government fuel regulations. This I suppose would be a job for forensic economists and accountants. Also, to be fair, what are the true subsidized costs of fossil fuels?

If the free market is not permitted to chose the best products for the least amount of price, then I would say we have a big problem. A very Big Problem.

When I read about the real financial situation of the United States, the simplest question I can ask is this:

Can anyone say Soviet Russia, circa August 1991?

Dave,

I like the free market as much as anyone, and I consider myself a libertarian in that sense...but if we completely wait for the free market to develop alternatives, most likely it would happen at the start of a crisis that will take us many years to respond to. Who knows how much damage that would cause us?

Plus, it is not good for national security and sovereignty to have our economy and way of life effectively being "held hostage" by oil exporting nations, most of which hate us. So I also see development of alternatives to be a national security issue which is within the proper role of the federal government.

That doesn't necessarily mean ethanol will be a big part of it, but it could play at least some part together with other initiatives and alternatives.

btu/mile is the way to normalize between different fuels of differing energy density. so while it looks bad on a mpg basis, E85 is still as energy effeinet as gas on a thermo level. also consider that when E85 usually costs 20-30% less than gas the cost per mile is a wash.

how come nobody says anything about tax breaks/corporate welfare that the oil companies get(exploration cost breaks, etc)?

Dave:

I still don't know where you are getting the idea that a gallon of ethanol requires two gallons of gasoline to produce. Please cite something other than frothy conspiracy theories regarding "hidden subsidies" and the like to prove this point.

-NBK

>> how come nobody says anything about tax breaks/corporate welfare that the oil companies get(exploration cost breaks, etc)? <<

For the same reason some people complain about the subsidies mass transit and Amtrak get, while conveniently forgetting about the massive subsidies given to the automotive infrastructure? Yes, gas taxes pay a part of it, but just a part, and the reality is that the auto infrastructure gets far more subsidies than mass transit. Not saying that's good or bad, just noting the inconsistency that I commonly hear.

I'm glad I'm not one of his "A.P. Physics" high school students.

You can talk all day about miles/btu as some sort of efficiency measure but the fact remains that one gets a lot more btus per gallon from gasoline than from ethanol. Unless ethanol costs signficantly less than gasoline, it will not make sense to use it. Miles per btu is hardly an argument in favor of ethanol if the btus from ethanol are more expensive.

Energy efficiency on the so called thermo level does not argue in favor of ethanol if it takes a lot more ethanol to get the same btus per mile. Ethanol is subidized both at the corn production level at the refined product level (twice) and it is still having difficulty competing with gasoline.

As I said before, you could take a fuel which only got you one mile per gallon with a very low btu content and then claim that it was efficient from a btu per mile standpoint. If you keep lowering the numerator and denominator proportionately, you can maintain the same btus per mile and still be getting horrible miles per gallon and be paying paying orders of magnitude more per mile for one's fuel. Hence, for all pracltical purposes, miles per btu mean nothing unless it is put in the context of miles per gallon and dollars per gallon.

While it is true that all forms of energy are being subsidized in some way, it is also true that this is another way that ethanol is benefiting since it requires energy inputs from fuels that are subidized. Thus, it gets subsidized in three ways, once at the corn level, twice at the production level, and third at the input level.

While we will never agree here on the EROEI, it is noted that Pimental still maintains that the EROIE is negative. The primary reason for this is that he counts, for example, the energy required to produce the equipment necessary to produce the product all the way from corn production through distillation and refinement. I still thinks those are valid inputs and should not be ignored by the USDA and industry.

Tim:

Market forces can deal with energy disruptions rather quickly. Consider for example when natural gas and oil prices skyrocketed in the late 1970's (primarily due to monetary inflation at the hands of the Fed), driving up the costs of driving and heating one's home.

People at the time went to driving more fuel efficient vehicles. People went from driving gas hogs that got 12 m.p.g. to cars getting over 30 m.p.g., obviously a personal choice. When petroleum prices begin to go up, consumption will go down, period. We may not be driving S.U.V.s, and we may have to live close to where we work, rather than 30 miles away, but either way, people would adapt because they would have no choice.

Also, around the time folks started to insulate and weather-strip buildings, many people began to heat homes, schools, and businesses with wood and other solid-fuel fired heating equipment that came onto the market fairly quickly which truly saved people a lot of money. Unfortunately, the Clean Air Act of 1991 drove most of the wood stove manufacturers out of business, as it costs about $100,000 per stove just to get E.P.A. certification- a good example of our Government destroying a creative, useful activity. I predict some of these same things will soon occur again, if they haven't started already. Also, when ethanol motorfuel is economically viable, we will see it without need of a government input which does nothing but encourage and support inefficient producers. We still predominately use petroleum-based fuels because it is still cheaper than alternatives. If it is possible to replace gasoline with ethanol, someone will figure it out whose intent is to make money off of it. However, it probably will be much more expensive compared to what we're used to nowadays. One problem about corn-based ethanol that must be faced, according to some sources, is that even if we devote half of our crop to ethanol, it would only replace 6% of current gasoline production! Oh, and you can believe that food costs will go through the roof. If one figures in woody wastes, that rises to a total of 11% of current total gasoline usage. Either way, if indeed we are facing "Peak Oil" our energy consumption will have to go back to a level of something like 1940 America. I'll sum up the situation by paraphrasing the author Howard Kunstler: " Life in America won't be about going places, it will be about staying in one place." t: There are several discrete issues you touch upon in your post. I will try to address them in turn. 1. Consumer price of E85 vs. gasoline: You are right. E85 must cost substantially less per gallon in order to make up for the lower energy content and lower miles per gallon acheived in conventional (non-optimized) FFVs. And, in a good number of instances, it actually does cost less. FN1. However, the need for a lower E85 price is theoretically a temporary state of affairs. If or when FFVs are optimized for higher octane E85, their MPG rating when running on ethanol will go up. 2. Policy Questions -- including energy return estimates and subsidies: This is admittedly a massive and sticky topic. How do you count up all the explicit and hidden subsidies -- and costs -- associated with any given fuel type and manufacturing process? I find it very hard to locate comprehensive and reliable studies of the questions. A few factors which come to mind (based on issue you point out, as well as others): Ethanol: Subsidies on inputs (corn, coal?, other?), subsidies on product ($0.50 tax credit when blended into motor fuel), energy costs, including all inputs (back to the fertilizer and the very machines used to plant the corn); plus what is the actual fair value of all byproducts? Differing production methods: Corn, sugar beet, sugar cane, grain. How efficient is each? What about distilleries run on coal, natural gas, nuclear electricity, renewable electricity? Co-generation? Benefits from cleaner combustion? Positive CO2 balance?

Oil:
Subsidies on inputs (tax breaks for exploration and drilling). Taxes on product -- high enough? Account for all energy inputs, including the cost of all equipment and energy used in exploring, mining, drilling, pumping, piping, transporting, refining, blending, distributing and retailing gasoline? Cost of military presence needed to secure stable international supplies? Macroeconomic costs of sending money abroad? Security costs of funding people who don't like us? Costs of air pollution and global warming?

3. The way I see it, the first matter -- consumer price -- can always be manipulated with relative ease. The government can adjust tax policy with the stroke of a pen to make sure that E85 never costs more than gasoline does on a mile-for-mile basis. That's what current policy is aimed at doing, and does to an imperfect extent.

The question is -- should government do that? Most people on most sides of current ideological fault lines will say "it depends." The answer depends on whether or not the externalities -- costs imposed on society by the consumption of a good, but not reflected in the producer price of that good -- justify a given level of taxation.

For instance, most people agree that taxing motor fuel to pay for the construction and upkeep of roads that cars drive upon is justifiable. Consuming gasoline creates a demand for roads, which is not reflected in the producer's offering price for the product. So we add on a tax to help pay for the roads, which also marginally reduces demand because it makes driving a bit more expensive than it otherwise would be. We could choose not to tax gasoline, and simply pay for roads out of general funds (collected by income tax, general sales tax, property tax, etc.) or out of tolls paid by road users, or yearly registration fees, but in general we think a gas tax is not an unreasonable way to pay for roads.

By the same logic, if we could fairly determine that demand for gasoline required an annual $100 billion in additional military expenditures, above and beyond what we would normally spend, because of our need to regularly intervene in far off places to preserve the stability of the petroleum market, then it would be equally fair to collect that out of a gas tax, rather than out of a general funds tax. Similarly, if consuming petroleum led to$100 billion per year in higher medical costs across society, as air pollution exacerbates diseases and lung problems, then we could collect some of that cost through a gas tax, rather than paying for health care out of general government funds, medicare funds, or private funds.

So the question really is that big: How much is ethanol taxed/subsidized? How much is gasoline taxed/subsidized? What are the true costs -- including all externalities -- of ethanol and gasoline?

And finally -- what is the future potential of both? I don't see gasoline becoming any easier to find, any easier on the environment, or any easier geopolitically. But I do see ways in which ethanol could become a lot better for our country and our globe.

I happen to think that conventional ethanol is not a bad deal, all things considered, but it is honestly not enough to really get excited about. But I also happen to think that ethanol, or other closely related spark-compatible biofuels, have obvious and serious potential for future advances.

I also happen to think that many other things need to be done all along the chain. We should significantly reduce the number of behemoths (SUVs/pickups) on the road -- which we can do probably by pricing in all the externalities *they* create, relative to normal cars. We can promote next-generation solutions that get us away from combustion engines (hybrids/PHEVs/EVs -- heck, maybe even fuel cells). Most importantly -- get people out of cars in increasing numbers, by making the alternatives more practicable. Auto-centric suburbs got built in part because consumers demanded it, but in part because standardized design and zoning criteria were adopted by local governments around the country, making other urban layouts which had (and have) a good deal of consumer demand impossible to build. All the same, we now have to live with what we've got, and we also have to live with the fact that the auto is a legitimate convenience in a wide set of circumstances. We simply have to deal with it rationally.

FN1: http://www.cleanairchoice.org/outdoor/PriceForum.asp

The energy content of pure ethanol is about 70% of that of gasoline, so E85 has about 75% of the energy content. If ou don't care about range on a full tank of gas, follow this simple rule:

If the price of E85 at the pump is less than 75% of the price of gasoline, go for the E85. Otherwise, stick with gasoline unless you a glutton for punishment.

As for the GHG footprint of ethanol: estimates of how many BTUs of fossil fuel it takes to produce one BTU of ethanol from corn kernels (the kind that matters most in the US) do vary. Improvements in agriculture and processing have brought this into mildly postive territory. Figure 0.85 BTUs of fossil fuels for 1 BTU of ethanol. However, those fossil fuel BTUs have to be mined/processed, so it's probably closer to 1. For finished gasoline, figure 1.15 BTUs of crude oil for 1 BTU of finished fuel.

Ergo, driving on E85 produced from domestically grown corn kernels reduces the GHG footprint of your vehicle by 1-(0.85*1 + 0.15*1.15)/1.15 = 11%.

Now compare a full-sized truck with regular car. Let's say the truck gets 12MPG on gasoline, or 19.6 l/100km. CO2 production is 24 g/km per l/100km, so on gasoline the truck causes 1.15 * 19.6 * 24 = 541 g CO2/km. On E85, reduce that by 11% - 482 g CO2/km.

Let's say the car gets 24MPG on gasoline, or 9.8 l/100km, causing 1.15 * 9.8 * 24 = 270 g CO2/km., or 44% LESS than the truck on E85. Of course, you can get cars that get well over 30, even 50MPG combined. The Prius comes in at 104 g CO2/km, i.e. 5 Prius = 1 full-sized pick-up trucks on gasoline.

Conclusion: if you have a legitimate reason for owning a full-size truck (or truck-based SUV), consider running it on E85 if the price is right. If you don't need a big-a** truck, please drive a car instead. With what you save in gas alone (never mind GHG), you can easily afford to rent a larger vehicle for occasional use.

I would only add that a real stickler would try to determine the "real world" difference in economy in his particular FFV when running E85 versus gasoline. Going on the EPA numbers, for instance, suggests that different model FFVs respond slightly differently to that 25% drop in energy content.

NBK-Boston -

I'd be very surprised if different FFV cars really got radically different MPG ratios on E85 vs. gasoline. There may be some minor differences due to engine construction, but for the purpose of GHG footprint estimates, those are definitely second-order effects compared to the uncertainties in the agriculture and refining overheads.

I suggest yoo look carefully at exactly which numbers EPA is quoting for FFVs: with the CAFE loophole, the aggregate number is based on the notion that owners would fill up on gasoline 50% of the time and on E85 the other 50% (a dubious proposition). However - and here's the kicker - when on E85, only the 15% gasoline are counted as consumed fuel (which is completely false advertising, as consumers have to PAY for the ethanol fraction). As they say: you can fool some of the people all of the time, and those are the ones you want.

The result: wrt CAFE, an FFV truck that actually gets 12 MPG on gasoline and 9 MPG on E85, is classified as if it got 21 MPG on a 50/50 mix, thus evading the gas guzzler tax. The ethanol lobby, the Detroit carmakers and midwestern Congressmen are colluding in this blatant deception.

NGK + Rafael:

I believe you effectively closed discussion on ethanol.
However, I”ll alow myself some additions.

E85 optimized engine will increase thermal efficiency by no more then 5%, which is not nearly enough to compensate for lower volumetric specific energy of E85 vis gasoline. E85 mpg will be always lower then gasoline mpg, thought thermal efficiency of E85 optimized engine will be higher.

IMHO, hidden cost of 100 billion dollars spent yearly on military expeditions applies mostly to imported oil, not pumped here in North America.

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