Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submitlogin
EPA Looks to Move Forward with Blending More Ethanol in Summer Gasoline (www.thedrive.com)
24 points by tomohawk 2 months ago | hide | past | web | 64 comments | favorite

Who is behind the lobbying on Ethanol? The decrease in gas mileage is not worth it, and I'm fairly certain the product is hardly profitable without heavy government subsidies.

The corn lobby is very powerful. Nobody else thinks ethanol is a good idea, especially from corn (one of the worst crops you could use). The carbon inputs to make the ethanol are around the same as if you just burned petroleum in the first place. Once you burn the ethanol as well, it's much worse than just gasoline. It also encourages expansion of farm land into virgin land and increases food prices. Not to mention it is horrible for engines, especially in older vehicles.

Hilariously, gas sold for non-highway use (like farms) is not required to contain ethanol, and usually doesn't. They'll push it on all of us, but won't use it themselves.

One reason farmers likely avoid it is that ethanol fuel only has a shelf life of about three months[1] while regular fuel can easily last a year or more. I'm sure that's an issue on a farm where fuel isn't always cycled out constantly.

[1] http://www.fuel-testers.com/expiration_of_ethanol_gas.html

That link is full of half-truths that I don't have time to address, so I'll just add your one point.

E10 is not regular gasoline with some ethanol added. E10 is a lower grade of gas with ethanol added. That lower grade of gas degrades in a few months.

Thanks for bringing up some criticisms. This past year I was stocking up fuel for emergencies and ran into fuel stabilizers and ethanol-free fuel (there's farmland nearby), but haven't done too much research into how long things should be stored, what happens, and why.

Do you have any suggestions where you find more accurate more info? This West Marine webpage seems quite a bit more reputable, a lot less alarmist, but seems to similar assertions: https://www.westmarine.com/WestAdvisor/Busting-Ethanol-Fuel-...

That page applies to boats and is seems true for boats. I might disagree that running E15 will harm fuel systems when E10 won't, but that is the only place where they are possibly wrong.

It is really hard to find unbiased sources.

From what I can tell (lots of sources, but I'm not sure where I read all this so you have to decide if you believe an admitted amateur in all this): gasoline is a mix of molecules. Some of them evaporate faster than others (read lower octane) - these are generally cheaper and some have more energy when burned. Some will break down into other molecules (air and/or water is a catalyst factor here) forming what looks like varnish and smells like turpentine. Gasoline is a mix of these (depending on temperature, cost and EPA rules).

Water is interesting. Depending on temperature you can mix up to about 5% water in gasoline, and surprisingly in a warm engine you get more power/MPG when you do this (engines won't start as well though). This was commonly done until the mid 1980s because adding water is a cheap way for a gas station to make their fuel cheaper than the competition while still claiming good fuel.

Ethanol makes things tricky. Ethanol and water mix just fine (common beer is a little ethanol and a lot of water), OR ethanol and gasoline mix well. However all three do not mix: if you mix ethanol, water and gasoline you end up with a layer of ethanol/water and a layer of gasoline. (you can mix up to .1% water with ethanol and gasoline but that is so low as to not count).

Now some simple math (meaning wrong but close enough): if you mix 1% water with E10 your ethanol layer is 10% water - this is enough water that you won't be able to start your engine, though if it is already running it would run. If you had 100% ethanol that amount of water wouldn't be a problem: the engine would run fine 1% water 99% ethanol.

Ethanol doesn't absorb water from the air. However when (not if) water condenses [temperature changes] in the fuel tank ethanol will absorb it. Thus in a humid environment where fuel is stored long ethanol will separate just from water in the air. This is often said the be ethanol absorbing water from the air but that isn't exactly what happens.

Because ethanol increases the octane rating?

> Hilariously, gas sold for non-highway use (like farms) is not required to contain ethanol, and usually doesn't

Only seven states actually require the use of E10 for non-farm gas. All the others are just using it to satisfy the corn lobby.

Also, a lot of small engines (with carbs) demand non-ethanol gasoline; apparently ethanol gums up the carbs I think.

Of course, it'd be better if we just stopped using those small engines altogether... one leaf blower being used for one day puts out as much pollution as a Ford Raptor pickup in 100,000 miles.

Ethanol does not "gum up" (note I am not defending anything here). Just open up your bathroom cabinet. I bet you got a bottle of isopropyl alcohol in there. Its probably years old too. How "gummed up" is it?

The gumming up of ethanol mixed fuels is due to the poor quality of gasoline base that is used.

The gumminess comes from degrading rubber hoses and seals, neither of which are found in a plastic bottle.

Well, it also comes from dissolving years of gasoline deposits, if you've been using non-ethanol gas before. Ethanol is a very effective cleaner.

In addition, it's hygroscopic.

That doesn't matter much in modern fuel systems that don't admit much water to begin with.

"Dry Gas" is usually just some sort of alcohol, which mixes with both water and gasoline. Add dry gas, the water mixes into the fuel and is pushed/burned off.

I buy premium gas for my small engines. They don't need the octane, but it's easier to find non-ethanol gas in premium than in regular unleaded.

There's plenty of corn in the midwest. Also Brazil is the largest ethanol producer, producing from sugar cane. I bet because of this we may see more corn this year and less soybeans due to the trade war.

It's a handful of senators playing to farmers in their home state.


I'd assume corn farmers.

Ethanol somewhat made sense before fracking: US needed a source of fuel that didn't come from overseas. But now the US is a net exporter of oil due to the fracking boom, so we've solved the "US-sourced" fuel problem.

It never made sense because it requires more than a gallon of fuel to produce a gallon of ethanol. It is a horrible idea, and only exists due to pure unadulterated corruption.

First, it's not even true, according to most studies I've seen. Second, it only applies to ethanol made from corn, which is a highly inefficient way of making it.

Corn is how almost all ethanol in the US is made, so it's absolutely true.

Environmentalists were enthusiastic about ethanol for a while, along with biodiesel from soybean oil (another bad idea) before they realized it was a net negative.

"The decrease in gas mileage is not worth it"

That statement presumes that you know what ethanol-free gasoline would cost. It is often possible to find ethanol-free gas if you look for it, but at least here in HI it is substantially more expensive.

That’s exactly it. Gotta keep Iowa employed.

There are no subsidies for ethanol, and haven't been for years. There are crop insurance subsidies, but they cover the farmer not ethanol which has to compete on its own. You look into oil subsidies before you say more on this topic.

Farmers are behind it. They grow far more food than people eat, turning it into fuel keeps a large majority of them on the farm. If you don't like it don't buy it - right now it isn't even legal for you to buy E15 half the year. (all cars since 2001 can use E15 safely, but legally only flex fuel cars are allowed to use E15 in summer) E15 is generally cheaper than E10 by a small amount - farmers figure they can make E15 cheaper by enough to make it worth it for some drivers.

" (all cars since 2001 can use E15 safely, but legally only flex fuel cars are allowed to use E15 in summer)"

You have a source for this assertion?

I had a 2012 model year vehicle that explicitly mentioned E10 as the highest concentration blend.


Summary: the EPA has done extensive testing and that is the source I use. Manufactures have not tested and don't agree. Your choice who to believe, but I stand by my statement.

Requiring people to mix it into their gasoline should be considered a subsidy.

It depends on the cost and the cost of the alternative.

It fulfills the role of oxygenate, which reduces noxious tailpipe emissions. The previous major additive, MTBE, is a persistent environmental contaminant.

So you have a matrix of the cost of adding the oxygenates and the costs of not adding them and so on.

If it's cheaper than the alternative then it wouldn't need to be mandated.

If the goal is to control emissions, then set standards on the emissions and let people use any solution that achieves those standards. If ethanol is the best way to achieve good emissions standards then people will choose it on their own.

Well, except markets love to ignore externalities like environmental damage, which is something I was including in my usage of "cost" up there.

I feel like the game is being played backwards.

Instead of subsidizing a single solution to some kind of externality we should be taxing the cost of the externality itself and allowing all potential solutions to bid on the mitigation...

Wonderful. /s

My car's owner's manual specifically says not to use fuel with greater than 10% ethanol. I don't want to play Russian Roulette with my fuel system.

I'm not an expert, but my understanding is most modern (non-carburetor) cars can run 100% ethanol without issue. The problems arise, not from the combustion process, but from the increased acidity causing increased wear on non-metal components like seals and gaskets.

Most consumer gasoline already has ethanol mixed in, I doubt a modest increase will be an issue.


Also, most consumer stations have 10% (unleaded), 85% (e85), or 100% (racing). I'm not aware of any stations that consistently offer anything between 10% and 85%.

I suspect your car's warning it warning against e85 and racing fuel.

> most modern (non-carburetor) cars can run 100% ethanol without issue

Unless you buy a car specifically built for E85 or higher fuel this is not true.

It may vary regionally, but E85 is not widely available where I live (middle of corn country, midwest USA) compared to regular gasoline or diesel.

Most computers don't know how to adjust the air-fuel ratio for higher levels of ethanol. It isn't impossible to do that but it is additional effort to put in those mappings.

There are a lot of stations in Iowa that offer E15. Few other states even have one. Even in Iowa a lot of stations have said they won't sell it because of the legal issues.

There are also cold-starting issues when running very high ethanol fractions.

Beyond 10% you run in the acid issues as well as needing a higher fuel to air mixture.

Ethanol is corrosive to lots of materials but it isn't acidic.

You can actually separate the ethanol and be left with the gasoline (google it).

But the irony is that the gasoline that is mixed with ethanol is absolutely the lowest quality. The octane will be much lower than 87 and the gasoline base also appears to corrode metals as well as eat rubber. People complain that the alcohol is what destroys, but in this case, it is the pure alcohol that is actually making the low quality gasoline stable enough to be put into a normal car.

Yes, but then why am I buying gas with ethanol in it in the first place?

Read the article. This is not requiring all gasoline to have 15% ethanol. E15 is a kind of gas that is commonly offered. Most of the stations here in MN offer it. This bill only allows it to be sold year round. E10 will still be the most common type of gas sold.

How heavily are taxpayers subsidizing corn used for ethanol?

What would a gallon of E15 cost without the corn subsidy?

Well, since it takes more than a gallon of fuel to produce a gallon of ethanol, we can assume it's completely subsidized.

This statement is logically unsound. The addition of ethanol is as an additive to reduce emissions, just as other petroleum-based additives are used. There's no constraint that such additives be net energy positive.

This is the first I've heard of ethanol being useful for reducing emissions. First off, the net effect is obviously more emissions since the fuel burned to create the ethanol is mostly diesel in farm equipment. Second the local reduction of emissions seems to be benzene, but is replaced with acetaldehyde, which sounds like a wash, or barely an improvement.

The emissions argument seems like a complete loser for ethanol.

> This is the first I've heard of ethanol being useful for reducing emissions.

Why would the EPA be involved, if not for emissions reasons?

The argument about net-zero or negative energy life-cycle return isn't what is meant by "emissions". In automobiles the exhaust pipe is considered a point source, not the combined sum of the production process including a tractor being run a thousand miles away from downtown LA or Houston.

I addressed this with my local emissions comment about benzene. Maybe you missed it.

It can be used as an oxidizer, as in some places MTBE has been banned.

The tractors and other farm equipment still run on fossil fuels and then there is the carbon cost of transporting the ethanol.

Ethanol has been energy positive for many years. The myth persists though.

You're going to need to source that... Using a diesel powered semi truck to tote tons of corn 1000's of miles to a refinery does not make any kind of sense (in the name of efficiency), especially when the alternative (oil) can be put into a pipe line and pumped for next to nothing.


Corn is generally not transported 1000s of miles. Most ethanol plants source their corn locally. Corn transported long distances is done, but generally not for ethanol plants which are located in small rural towns with a lot of corn farmers around. Even in the case of a local crop failure there is still a lot of corn locally so most of the corn will still be local

Even when corn is transported 1000s of miles (generally for feed purposes, though as above, sometimes there isn't local corn) it is generally transported by train not truck which is much more efficient.

It takes more than a gallon of gasoline to produce a gallon of gasoline, too. Anything less would be amazing.

> The use of biofuel products, such as ethanol, is heavily subsidized in the United States.

OK, so we subsidize ethanol production... because? It's not because turning what could be food into fuel is good for "the environment" really. It's definitely not good for actually feeding people. (Diversion of what could be food-productive land to ethanol is responsible for increase in subsistence food costs for poor people worldwide).

But anyway, we subsidize it. Mostly to help farmers. Fine, you gotta help farmers somehow.

> The government hopes that by permitting the higher blend of ethanol, drivers will be paying less at the pump.

OK, since we're subsidizing it, making it cheaper than gasoline, now we gotta allow more of it, so consumers will "pay less at the pump". Not because, you know, it's inherently cheaper or anything, but just because we subsidize it.

But at least people will get to pay less for gas. Uh, what's that you say?

> But for consumers, more ethanol means lower overall fuel economy since ethanol only possesses two-thirds the energy content of a gallon of gasoline. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that a 10 percent ethanol blend into gasoline will decrease a car's overall fuel economy by three percent; this means that increasing ethanol to a 15 percent blend will bring the average fuel economy down 4.5 percent when compared to just straight gasoline.

Okay, so maybe they're not paying _as much_ less at the pump as they thought. Presumably the per-gallon cost is at least 4.5% less than gasoline, so at least they're still paying _something_ less at the pump... I hope. If it's less than 4.5% less than straight gasoline, of course they're paying more, they just don't realize it. (And let's not talk about older cars whose engines can't handle it and which will be harmed, unless you knew that and... bought the premium gas instead? Still saving money at the pump?)

But at least it's PROBABLY not releasing MORE air pollution than gasoline, if you believe the ethanol industry's researchers over other researchers. Great!

The whole thing MAKES NO SENSE. The whole ethanol thing is garbage policy.

That was originally promoted as somehow "good for the environment." (It is not). This is why "oh, maybe it won't help that much, but every little bit helps" is never a good reason to do things "good for the environment." Some things are just BS. (And don't get me wrong, i think we DESPERATELY need to do a LOT more "good for the environment" (and climate change), which is why this kind of BS is SO BAD).

At least this article is better than most and gives you enough facts to connect the dots if you're paying attention.

The ONLY way that ethanol in gasoline makes sense is as an anti-knock agent. Compared to metallic anti-knock agents (Tetra-ethyl lead, MTBE, MMT) it's fairly envronmentally friendly if spilled.

As for mandating the amount required to be blended into fuel, I agree that doesn't make sense.

The problem is not with the ethanol. It's with the corn.

At least you can EAT corn instead of burning it as a poor more-polluting more-expensive substitute for gasoline!

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact