Can't We Just Get Rid Of Ethanol Ignorance?

Renewable Fuels America

March 6, 2015

By Bobby Likis, President of Car Clinic

Jay Leno is a car guy … and someone I’ve respected for many years. But Jay’s AutoWeek article “Can’t We Just Get Rid Of Ethanol?” makes zero sense to me.

I’m a car guy too. Restored and own a classic 1980 Weisssach Porsche 911. Auto service shop owner for 44 years with over 200,000 vehicles (from classics to hybrids) rolling through the bays. Engine builder. Car-talk host answering more than 100,000 car questions live on radio, television, web and social media.

What I read in the “Rid” article does not sound like Jay Leno, the car guy. Oddly enough, not too long ago at SEMA, Mr. Leno was touting E85 and other ethanol-blends of gasoline with his Z06 ‘Vette. Now, for whatever unknown reason, he’s slamming ethanol. I cannot believe “what Jay said” is “what Jay really believes.” His words smack of otherwise invested horse-whisperers who use personal agendas to sway vulnerable-for-whatever-reason people towards their way.

So as a car guy, allow me to share a few ethanol facts with you.

1) Water absorption: No doubt that ethanol emulsifies and holds water. Yay!! That’s a good thing! In fact, “holding” / suspending /emulsifying water is an ethanol ASSET — not detriment — as gas tanks actually run dryer after the transition from E0 to E10. Mercury Marine — the boat engine manufacturer — states this fact. Specifically with regard to moisture, a gallon of ethanol suspends FOUR (4) TEASPOONS of water per gallon of fuel before phase separation. On the other hand, gasoline suspends only POINT ONE FIVE (.15) TEASPOON (that’s LESS than ONE teaspoon) of water per gallon before phase separation. So PHASE SEPARATION WILL OCCUR 26 TIMES MORE RAPIDLY WITH GASOLINE THAN WITH ETHANOL! This has been demonstrated hundreds of times (including one demonstration I recently saw by Dr. Andrew Randolph, technical director of Earnhardt-Childress Racing), clearly substantiating that gasoline does NOT effectively hold (suspend) water. So with straight gasoline, whatever water is in any tank or atmosphere “phase separates” and falls to the bottom of the tank. In contrast in ethanol-blended fuel, the ethanol will suspend that water during the driving of the vehicle; then, harmlessly carry it through the system to be vaporized by the engine without affecting the engine in the least. The suspended water, vaporized by the engine, produces NO harmful emissions. And one more point: at 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 70 percent relative humidity, it takes more than two months for even gasoline to absorb water. Since ethanol has 26 times the suspension capability of gasoline, it would take literally months and months before any phase separation could possibly take place. I can state categorically that I own a Classic 1980 Limited Edition Weissach Porsche 911 and have driven it three times in the past three years … to buy fresh gas. I start this vehicle (about every three months) and let it run for no less than ½ hour to circulate the E10 gas.

2) Increased car fires over past three decades: Totally spoken out of context. GM recalled nearly 1.5 million cars as a result of rocker covers leaking oil. Maybe the next article should be “Why Can’t We Remove Oil From All Engines?” Leaking fuel lines allow fuel to hit hot engines and ka-blooooie … really? I’ve operated my own bumper-to-bumper full service automotive repair and service shop for 44 years and had more than 200,000 cars and small trucks come through our doors and not one has ever had an engine damaged by ethanol much less a fire.

3) “The worse can happen”: Not according to studies/research. Hagerty Insurance — you know, THE classic car insurance company — funded a study by Kettering University (known for its reputation in the field of automotive research) on the use of E10 in older cars. Wouldn’t you think if E10 caused damage in the collector cars that Hagerty insures that Hagerty would be the first to say, “Can’t We Just Get Rid of Ethanol?” Instead, after 1,500 hours of testing with E0 (0 percent ethanol) and E10 (10 percent ethanol), general consensus was that “with minor updates and proper maintenance, E10 will not negatively affect your old car or truck.” Ah, the voice of reason … and research. For more reason and research, check out the Renewable Fuels Association’s detailed and facts-forward guide for classic car owners (“Gasoline Ethanol Blends in the Classic Auto”). 

4) Renewable Fuel Standard: My head is still spinning with the totally out of context references to ethanol in classic cars, but Mr. Leno’s reflections on the Renewable Fuel Standard should be titled “Can’t We Simply Continue America’s 100+ Year Dependence On Foreign Oil?” Unthinkable. Tossing the Renewable Fuel Standard not only ensures we remain dependent on foreign oil, but also such actions literally cause would-be investors to pause and reconsider their potential investments in our nation’s renewable energy opportunities.

With all due respect for the beautiful, treasured classics in garages and at car shows, let’s clear the smoke about any conclusion — even dead-wrong ones — about E10 in classic cars. How about refocusing on the other 260,000,000 light (non-commercial) vehicles on U.S. roads today? The average age is about 11½ years. So most of us drive cars made in this millennium … not made in the ‘70s or before. “Why Can’t We Just Get Rid of Steak ‘Cause Babies Can’t Eat It?” would be a nice, scare-tactic, demotivator for auto manufacturers worldwide to design, engineer and manufacture future vehicles that optimize the high-performance, environmentally friendly engines that thrive on high-octane ethanol.

Thank goodness the early 1900s best seller “Why Can’t We Just Get Rid of Cars” — written by the horse breeders — didn’t catch on.

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