Photo of an ethenol powerd car.
Will the EPA hold off on their ethenol research? CC by Jeffrey Beall/Flickr

There has been bluster and rhetoric for over 30 years about dependence on foreign oil, though there is good reason. Along the way, people have tried to come up with different fuels for transportation. One of these ideas was to use the compound ethanol. Over the last few years, gas suppliers have been mixing gasoline and ethanol, in a solution called E10, or 10 percent ethanol. The decision of whether to approve E15, or a 15 percent ethanol gas solution, is being weighed by the Environmental Protection Agency. Auto makers are urging the EPA to wait until more science is in on the matter.

The EPA weighs in on E15

The merits of E15 are currently being weighed on by the EPA. E15 is the next step up from the already widely sold E10. It has a mixture of 15 percent ethanol to 85 percent gasoline. Currently, it is being tested by the Department of Energy, according to Popular Mechanics. The idea is find out if it works in vehicles no older than 10 years old. That is not an incredibly realistic testing range. About 88 percent of all cars in use in the U.S. are over 10 years of age. The EPA has been lobbied by the Auto Alliance not to make a decision just yet. The effects on older vehicles from E15 should be known before being given approval. Ricardo Inc., and engineering and design firm has determined that E15 doesn’t harm older cars, but more study is likely needed.

Fuel from ethanol

Ethanol is a combination of the name of the compound ethyl alcohol. In other words, ethanol is booze. It is a flammable and combustible chemical. That said, ethanol has 34 percent less energy per unit of volume than gasoline, according to Wikipedia. Because of this, there is a 50 percent greater use of fuel in an ethanol-only vehicle. However, this can be countered with a little tinkering. Adjusting the compression can make ethanol vehicles more powerful, and thus achieve parity with gas. That said, ethanol still doesn’t have quite the same power as gas does. An increase of mileage cannot be achieved, even with a larger ethanol engine.

The by-product

Use of ethanol is not likely to be completely curtailed. Grain has been a fuel crop for some time, and will continue. However, the danger with supplanting gas with ethanol is that crops, especially grains, increase in scarcity and therefore cost. Cheap grain is more important in the long run. Civilization itself is only made possible with cheap and abundant grain.


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