Automakers continue to quietly void warranties if you use E-15 gas
Running ethanol in newer vehicles voids the warranty.
Ethanol is bad for your vehicles engine and needs to be banned.
It seems to be a growing trend that motorists are shopping around for gas stations which offer ethanol free gas, even if they have to pay a bit more per gallon to get it. Distributors are noticing, and more and more stations are featuring this option. (You can find a list of such stations near you here.) I noticed this myself during a recent trip in New York, and now it’s showing up further south as well.
Arthur Wyckoff III has sworn off alcohol — in his gasoline.
“I make it a point, before I get real low, to make it to a gas station that has 100 percent gas,” the Chickamauga, Ga., man said Thursday morning as he fueled his Toyota Corolla at the Sav-A-Ton on LaFayette Road in Fort Oglethorpe.
The gas station is one of a number in the Chattanooga area that advertise gas free of ethanol. The grain alcohol additive — usually derived from corn — makes up 10 percent of almost all gasoline sold at the pump around the United States.
“The ethanol, it just messes up your engine,” Wyckoff said.
The repeating theme among customers is repeated here. Drivers have become more and more aware that not only is the higher corn gas bad for engine components, it actually costs you money by cutting down on your mileage.
Pure gas means better mpg
There doesn’t seem to be any dispute that pure gasoline delivers better mileage than gas that’s part ethanol.
Mileage suffers by 3 to 4 percent using E10, or gas that’s up to 10 percent ethanol, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality.
But one factor which some auto shoppers may not be aware of is that the industry is aware of these dangers and they aren’t going to honor warranties on vehicles guzzling the latest 15% ethanol blend unless you’ve got a brand new car or one that is specifically rated as a “flex fuel vehicle.”
AAA and a number of automakers came out swinging against E15, warning that the extra ethanol could corrode plastic, rubber and metal parts in cars not built to handle it.
Five manufacturers — BMW, Chrysler, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen — stated their warranties will not cover E15 claims, the automobile association warned. And eight others — GM, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo — said that E15 may void warranties.
“Research to date raises serious concerns that E15 … could cause accelerated engine wear and failure, fuel system damage and other problems such as false ‘check engine’ lights,” AAA stated. “The potential damage could result in costly repairs for unsuspecting consumers. This is especially tough for most motorists given that only about 40 percent of Americans have enough in savings to afford a major auto repair.”
We already knew that high levels of ethanol will destroy boat engines and some smaller engines such as those in your lawnmower. But Consumer Reports confirmed back in 2011 that buyer beware. Auto makers won’t pay for damage caused by E-15.
The new orange label displays “E15” in large type and states that the fuel is for use only in 2001 or newer model-year vehicles or flex-fuel vehicles, and that it is illegal to use it in other vehicles or in power equipment such as lawnmowers.
In response to the release of the labels, nine automakers—including Chrysler, General Motors, and Toyota—wasted no time writing letters to Congress criticizing the proposal and noting that they will not honor warranties for older cars running on E15. The automakers say they are concerned about the effects of E15 on engines, fuel pumps, and other fuel-system components in cars that were not designed for it. (Learn more about ethanol: “The great ethanol debate.”)
In January, the EPA approved the use of E15 in all cars from the 2001 model year on. The only cars that would be warranted for use of the new fuel are flex-fuel vehicles, which are designed to use concentrations of ethanol up to 85 percent (E85).
Keep in mind that you’re paying for this though your tax dollars because of subsidies which continue to keep the “renewable fuels” push not only afloat, but mandatory in most cases. And in exchange for your big hearted investment, unless you do your research, you can see your boat engine, your lawnmower and even your family car producing expensive repair bills. And unless your car is one of the new ones which “qualifies” by way of design, your warranty may be void.
For now – thanks to Uncle Sugar – ethanol free gas is going to cost a bit more at the pump. But the EPA shows no signs of relenting, and until the President who put the current policymakers in place is out of office there’s no relief in sight. It may be worth the extra investment to put real gas in your tank just to avoid the downstream costs later.
It's Final -- Corn Ethanol Is Of No Use
OK, can we please stop pretending biofuel made from corn is helping the planet and the environment? The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released two of its Working Group reports at the end of last month (WGI and WGIII), and their short discussion of biofuels has ignited a fierce debate as to whether they’re of any environmental benefit at all.
The IPCC was quite diplomatic in its discussion, saying “Biofuels have direct, fuel‐cycle GHG emissions that are typically 30–90% lower than those for gasoline or diesel fuels. However, since for some biofuels indirect emissions—including from land use change—can lead to greater total emissions than when using petroleum products, policy support needs to be considered on a case by case basis” (IPCC 2014 Chapter 8).
The summary in the new report also states, “Increasing bioenergy crop cultivation poses risks to ecosystems and biodiversity” (WGIII).
The report lists many potential negative risks of development, such as direct conflicts between land for fuels and land for food, other land-use changes, water scarcity, loss of biodiversity and nitrogen pollution through the excessive use of fertilizers (Scientific American).
The International Institute for Sustainable Development was not so diplomatic, and estimates that the CO2 and climate benefits from replacing petroleum fuels with biofuels like ethanol are basically zero (IISD). They claim that it would be almost 100 times more effective, and much less costly, to significantly reduce vehicle emissions through more stringent standards, and to increase CAFE standards on all cars and light trucks to over 40 miles per gallon as was done in Japan just a few years ago.
With more than 60 nations having biofuel mandates, the competition between ethanol and food has become a moral issue. Groups like Oxfam and the Environmental Working Group oppose biofuels because they push up food prices and disproportionately affect the poor.
Most importantly, the new IPCC report is a complete about-face for the UN’s Panel. Its 2007 report was broadly condemned by some environmentalists for giving the green light to large-scale biofuel production, resulting in environmental and food supply problems.
The general discussion on biofuels has changed over the last few years. In December, Senators Feinstein (D-CA) and Coburn (R-OK) introduced a bill that would eliminate the corn ethanol mandate within the Federal Renewable Fuel Standard (Oil&Gas Journal) that requires blending ethanol into gasoline at increasing levels over the next decade. It was met with stiff opposition from heavily agricultural states, but had strong support from the petroleum industry. However, now that the tax credit and import tariffs have expired and ethanol is holding its own economically, it remains to be seen if the industry can stand up to this pressure.
So where is the U.S. today in corn ethanol space?
In 2000, over 90% of the U.S. corn crop went to feed people and livestock, many in undeveloped countries, with less than 5% used to produce ethanol. In 2013, however, 40% went to produce ethanol, 45% was used to feed livestock, and only 15% was used for food and beverage (AgMRC).
The United States will use over 130 billion gallons of gasoline this year, and over 50 billion gallons of diesel. On average, one bushel of corn can be used to produce just under three gallons of ethanol. If all of the present production of corn in the U.S. were converted into ethanol, it would only displace 25% of that 130 billion.
But it would completely disrupt food supplies, livestock feed, and many poor economies in the Western Hemisphere because the U.S. produces 40% of the world’s corn. Seventy percent of all corn imports worldwide come from the U.S. Simply implementing mandatory vehicle fuel efficiencies of 40 mpg would accomplish much more, much faster, with no collateral damage.
In 2014, the U.S. will use almost 5 billion bushels of corn to produce over 13 billion gallons of ethanol fuel. The grain required to fill a 25-gallon gas tank with ethanol can feed one person for a year, so the amount of corn used to make that 13 billion gallons of ethanol will not feed the almost 500 million people it was feeding in 2000. This is the entire population of the Western Hemisphere outside of the United States.
In 2007, the global price of corn doubled as a result of an explosion in ethanol production in the U.S. Because corn is the most common animal feed and has many other uses in the food industry, the price of milk, cheese, eggs, meat, corn-based sweeteners and cereals increased as well. World grain reserves dwindled to less than two months, the lowest level in over 30 years.
Additional unintended effects from the increase in ethanol production include the dramatic rise in land rents, the increase in natural gas and chemicals used for fertilizers, over-pumping of aquifers like the Ogallala that serve many mid-western states, clear-cutting forests to plant fuel crops, and the revival of destructive practices such as edge tillage. Edge tillage is planting right up to the edge of the field thereby removing protective bordering lands and increasing soil erosion, chemical runoff and other problems. It took us 40 years to end edge tillage in this country, and overnight ethanol brought it back with a vengeance.
Most fuel crops, such as sugar cane, have problems similar to corn. Because Brazil relied heavily on imported oil for transportation, but can attain high yields from crops in their tropical climate, the government developed the largest fuel ethanol program in the world in the 1990s based on sugar cane and soybeans.
Unfortunately, Brazil is clear-cutting almost a million acres of tropical forest per year to produce biofuel from these crops, and shipping much of the fuel all the way to Europe. The net effect is about 50% more carbon emitted by using these biofuels than using petroleum fuels (Eric Holt-Giménez, The Politics of Food). These unintended effects are why energy policy and development must proceed holistically, considering all effects on global environments and economies.
So why have we pushed corn ethanol so heavily here in the U.S.? Primarily because it was the only crop that had the existing infrastructure to easily modify for this purpose, especially when initially incentivized with tax credits, subsidies and import tariffs. Production, transportation and fermentation could be adapted quickly by the corn industry, unlike any other crop.
We should remember that humans originally switched from biomass to fossil fuels because biomass was so inefficient, and took so much energy and space to produce. So far technology has not reversed these problems sufficiently to make widespread use beneficial.
What else can we use to produce biofuel?
Two leading strategies involve ethanol production from the degradation of cellulosics, and biodiesel production from algae.
The common alcohol, ethanol, has been harnessed by humans for millennia, made through the microbial conversion of biomass materials, typically sugars, through fermentation. The process starts with a solution of fermentable sugars, fermented to ethanol by microbes, and then the ethanol is separated and purified by distillation.
Fermentation involves microorganisms, typically yeasts, that evolved billions of years ago before Earth’s atmosphere contained oxygen, to use sugars for food and in the process produced ethanol, CO2 and other byproducts:
(sugar) C6H12O6 → 2 CH3CH2OH + 2 CO2 (ethanol + carbon dioxide)
Microorganisms typically use 6-carbon sugars and their precursors, glucose and sucrose. But because sugars and starches are foods, a better alternative for ethanol production should be from non-food cellulosic materials, such as paper, cardboard, wood, and other fibrous plant material. Switchgrass and napier grass have been studied extensively as the best alternatives.
Cellulosics are abundant and much of the supply is considered waste. Cellulosics are comprised of lignin, hemicellulose, and cellulose. Lignin provides structural support for the plant and encloses the cellulose and hemicellulose molecules, making it more difficult to process for fuel.
Thus, efficiently making ethanol out of cellulosics requires a different approach than for corn. They can either be reacted with acid (sulfuric is most common), degraded using enzymes produced from microbes, or heated to a gas and reacted with chemical catalysts (thermo-chemical). Each has its variations, some can be combined, and all are attempting to be commercialized. Still, these processes are stuck at about twice the price per gallon produced compared to corn. Recently, special microorganisms have been genetically engineered to ferment these materials into ethanol with relatively high efficiency.
It’s no wonder we just went with corn!
Another less discussed biofuel strategy is biodiesel replacing petroleum diesel. Biodiesel is made by combining almost any oil or fat with an alcohol such as ethanol or methanol.
Biodiesel can be run in any diesel engine without modification and produces less toxic emissions and particulates than petroleum diesel. It causes less wear and tear on engines, and increases lubricity and engine efficiency, and releases about 60% less CO2 emissions than petroleum diesel.
Rudolf Diesel originally developed the diesel engine to run on diesel from food oils such as peanut and soybean, but animal fats and any other natural oil can be used. However, almost a hundred years ago, the need for fuel outstripped the supply of natural oils and petroleum become the only abundant source available.
The most common natural oils used are rapeseed and canola oil, but a particularly promising candidate is oil from algae. Algae production uses non-productive land and brine water and produces over 20 times the oil production of any food crop. An acre of algae can produce almost 5,000 gallons of biodiesel. It does not compete with food crops for arable land or potable water and could produce over 60 billion gallons/yr that would replace all petroleum-based diesel in the U.S.
However, all algae production facilities presently sell their crops to the food and cosmetic industry at a much greater profit than they would get from the fuel industry.
I guess for biofuels, as for any other source, there’s just no such thing as a free lunch.
[Note: Thanks to Eric and other commenters for pointing out some errors, especially my failing to mention the tax credits and tariffs have expired]
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