Ethanol-blend gas – issues of mileage, engine wear discussed

Gas prices are cheaper than this time last year, but drivers of vehicles that take E85 are paying a lot less. Still, not everyone is on board.


by Chris Woodward

Source: One News Now

E85 is a blend of 85-percent ethanol and 15-percent gasoline, but only certain vehicles are intended for E85 use. An article on Cars.com touts the fact that the blend means 85 percent less imported petroleum, but it also points out that E85 gets fewer miles per gallon than regular gas. That said, E85 drivers may be paying less than their regular gasoline counterparts, but more frequent stops may erase the savings.

OneNewsNow spoke with Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, about the miles-per-gallon concerns:

OneNewsNow: Is that true?

Buis: For E85?

OneNewsNow: Yes.

Buis: "Yes, it is - in today's engines. Now, there are some engines out there that are being manufactured where that's not as big a factor; and as the auto manufacturers have to meet even higher fuel-mileage standards in the future, you'll see a reverse of that. You'll see smaller displacement engines, higher compression ratios and turbo-charging and or direct-injection fuel systems. With that, you need higher octane. Ethanol's value is octane."

Buis adds that drivers do not have the same problem with the smaller ethanol blends of today.

Sterling Burnett, senior fellow for the nonprofit nonpartisan National Center for Policy Analysis, disagrees.

"You're not reaping savings. In fact, even with just E10, you're losing about a quarter of your fuel economy," he argues. "So if you go to E85, you're losing even more. But also, you've got to remember E85 is cheaper in part because the blenders get a 51-cents-per-gallon tax credit. Well, take away that 51 cents and all of a sudden, it's no longer cheaper than gasoline." (See editor's note below)

Mileage and cost-savings aside, the issue of E85 availability is evident, with some regions having more stations than others.

Is E85 harmful to engines?

Burnett says research done by his organization has found that increasing ethanol from E10 to E15, for example, is more likely to result in many more breakdowns on the road because ethanol causes more wear and tear on engines.

"If you have an older car with rubber seals and things - well, you've already experienced problems because ethanol separates," he explains. "Modern gas stations have tanks that don't allow the ethanol to separate from gasoline. But if you buy it from the same shop you've been buying from for 20 years, and they don't have the newest equipment, then ethanol can separate in their tanks - which means you get more water in your tank."

Buis, however, says no problems have been found by the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency in switching from E10 to E15.

"E10 is in almost all the gasoline that consumers buy. Every auto manufacturer provides a warranty for it," he counters. "Every small engine and marine engine builder offers warranties covering ethanol at 10 percent. E15 is only for autos and light-duty trucks 2001 and newer and flex-fuel vehicles."

Buis adds that the separation issue mentioned by Burnett is "much ado about nothing," as the testing fuels on most every car built since the mid-1990s have been more corrosive than ethanol, and an anti-corrosive detergent is added to ethanol before it is sold.

Editor's note (May 21, 2013): According to Jim Leiting with Big River Resources, all tax credits for ethanol blenders expired January 1, 2012. "There is no blender tax credit, so it does not lower the price of ethanol blends of any amount, including E85," he says.