SEBRING — Imagine, they said back in the 1970s, when an
Arab oil embargo sent gasoline prices skyrocketing from 25 to 50
cents per gallon.
Imagine. We could grow our own fuel. We could make alcohol
from corn and potatoes and soybeans, and our cars could run on
It burns cleaner. It's cheaper. It's renewable. It's made
But it turns out, ethanol isn't the miracle fuel it's
cracked up to be.
Ethanol Retains Water
"I just purchased a fuel
additive made by Sta-Bil to disperse the water that ethanol
causes," says Tom Moeller, a Highlands County man who was boating
in Georgia last week.
Why does Moeller's boat have water in the fuel tank?
"Alcohol attracts water," said Bobby Willis of Central
Florida Yamaha in Lake Placid. "It creates a water problem in
Now there's an irony. Ethanol attracts water, and
watercraft like WaveRunners and boat motors are constantly in the
Yamaha, says Willis, suggests installing a 10-micron
filter. "It costs about $50. You can install it yourself. Just
cut your fuel line and put it in the line."
"Ten percent ethanol is tolerable for use by WaveRunners,"
Willis said. "It can get more drastic, especially if you're using
With the exception of BP, all major brand gas stations in
Highlands County sell 10 percent ethanol. Only unbranded
stations, like 7 Days, Hendricks Corner, An Foodstore and Mystik,
sell gasoline without ethanol.
Ethanol Dissolves Plastic
"Ethanol can dissolve some
solid materials," says a June 2006 Yamaha advisory to dealers.
That includes varnish and rust on steel and corrosion on aluminum
tanks. The result is contaminated fuel.
"In some cases, ethanol has been known to dissolve
components of the fuel system itself," said Willis.
"Some fuel tanks and fuel lines are made of plastic, and
ethanol is eating away at the plastic," said Jimmi Fredricks,
service manager at Freedom Marine in Lake Placid. "It turns into
a jelly, and when you get to the bottom of the fuel tank, it
starts sucking it in."
Larson Boats, which Fredricks sells, recommends using no
ethanol at all.
"Fiberglass is the worst. If you have a fiberglass tank,
you need to replace the tank. Get it out of there," Fredricks
says. Engineers, who have been dealing with the ethanol problem
for two years, are now starting to retrofit fuel systems with
plastic that can't be dissolved by alcohol.
According to an April 9 story carried on the Dow Jones
newswires, a federal class action lawsuit filed in a Los Angeles
has charged ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell and other oil
companies with manufacturing and selling ethanol blended gasoline
that damages marine fuel tanks, engines and other components.
"The oil companies know this fuel is corrosive, but they're
keeping consumers in the dark to pump up their profits," said
Brian Kabateck, lead attorney on the case. "The cost to the
consumer is thousands of dollars in repairs."
The suit seeks to represent owners of boats with fiberglass
tanks who fueled their tanks with ethanol blended gasoline from a
Ethanol Dissolves Gum
At the Shell convenience store
on Main Street and CR 17 in Avon Park, owner Mohammed Shamim said
filters on the pumps must be changed several times a week.
"They're always clogging up," said Shamim.
Ask any painter: alcohol is a good paint stripper. It breaks off
old varnish, gums, and resin deposited by years of gasoline
sitting around in tanks. Then it turns into sticky goo, plugs
filters, sticks up carburetors and fuel injectors, and causes
everything from mild drops in performance to complete engine
shutdown, says Matthew A. Cohen, writing for teamrsm.com.
"The ethanol found in those states' gasoline supply can
cause thousands of dollars in damage to the boats," Cohen says.
"Ethanol eventually pulls gums, resins and debris out of the
tanks and into the engine."
Ethanol Gets Poor Gas Mileage
ethanol is more expensive than gasoline. Since alcohol produces
less energy than petroleum gasoline when burned, gas mileage is
reduced by 10 to 30 percent, according to Consumer Reports,
"To see how E85 ethanol stacks up against gasoline,
Consumer Reports put one of its test vehicles, a 2007 Chevrolet
Tahoe Flexible-Fuel Vehicle, through an array of fuel economy,
acceleration, and emissions tests," said a Consumer Reports
article. "Overall fuel economy on the Tahoe dropped from an
already low 14 mpg overall to 10. In highway driving, gas mileage
decreased from 21 to 15 mpg; in city driving, it dropped from 9
mpg to 7."
When Consumer Reports calculated the Tahoe's driving range,
it decreased to about 300 miles on a full tank of E85 compared
with about 440 miles on gasoline. So, motorists using E85 have to
fill up more often.
Joe Rutigliano of Joe's Service Center in Avon Park has
seen increased complaints about "check engine" lights. Most
involve the car's sensors not being able to measure oxygen
correctly, which he says has to do with how rapidly ethanol
The sensor works with a computer that controls the ratio of
air to gasoline that's inside the engine. What might be
happening, Rutigliano said, is that unburned gasoline is being
emitted from the engine because of the sensor malfunction.
"If you start dumping unburned gas, you're talking about
damaging the catalytic converter," he said. That's at least a
$150 repair job. On some cars, it's $1,100.
This is especially true for cars built in 2003 or earlier,
One customer brought in a Toyota Prius that was averaging
51 mpg. Now it's down to 40 mpg. Rutigliano is convinced it's the
But Kelly Payne, who owns a tree care service in Sebring,
believes his older car fleet can handle it just fine. He owns a
2005 Sea Pro, a 2006 pickup truck, and operates 1980s and 1990s
trucks, all using unleaded gasoline. None had a noticeable drop
in fuel efficiency or problems he thought were caused by ethanol.
Good And Bad News
This is from Forbes magazine:
"Ethanol, once heralded as the homegrown Nicorette gum of
America's oil addiction, is getting a second look from lawmakers
Distilling ethanol is an energy-intensive process that
often uses water, electricity generated from coal, another source
of greenhouse emissions.
Which leads to an old joke about a farmer who buys land.
After the closing, when it's way too late to back out, the seller
says to the farmer: "Oh. By the way. You'll need water."
It takes three gallons of water to make one gallon of ethanol,
according to domesticfuel.com.
That's interesting news in drought-stricken Florida, where
manufacturers are popping up to make ethanol.
Here's a true story, repeated in February 2007 by Tampa
newspapers: Florida's first ethanol plant, U.S. EnviroFuels LCC,
will need 390,000 gallons of fresh water every day to run its
ethanol plant at Tampa's port. That's enough for nearly 1,500
homes, which are under once-a-day watering restrictions.
ONLINE: A History Of Ethanol
Is Your Vehicle E85 Compatible?
Check the 8th digit
in the Vehicle Identification Number.
Go to www.e85fuel.com/information/vin.php
In Fords with certain engines, for instance, if the eighth
digit of the VIN shows a "V" on a Ford Crown Victoria, an F-150
or Ranger pickup truck, a Lincoln Town Car, a Mazda B3000 pickup
or a Mercury Grand Marquis, the car can be fueled with 15 percent
ETHANOL DOS AND DON'TS
• Replace pre-1985 fiberglass
• Replace fuel lines, o-rings and gaskets that
aren't built for ethanol.
• Inspect hose clamps and metal
fittings in the fuel system for corrosion.
• Refill the
fuel tank often to reduce airspace in the tank, which reduces
• Install a fuel line water separator
to eliminate water that collects in the tank.
• Use fuel
additives to stop fuel from aging and oxidizing.
de-emulsifying or hydrophobic additives to prevent water from
homogenizing with fuel.
Never use a fuel additive that
Never buy fuel that isn't clear and
Do not use E10 contaminated with water without a
Do not leave a near-empty
fuel tank sitting for long periods of time.
Source: Matthew Cohen, teamrsm.com
By Gary Pinnell | Highlands Today
Published: June 22, 2008
Originally posted here.