Another reason ethanol isn’t all that greatPosted on August 12th, 2008 No comments
If we were producing ethanol differently, if it wasn’t merely a way to collect enormous government subsidies, I would be more supportive of it. That said…
For Prius owner, ethanol is a pain in the gas
By Kyle Wind, Freeman staff
AS EXPENSIVE as driving is these days, Michele Linehan decided to drive all the way from her Rosendale home to Shokan just to fill up her gas tank – because she hopes the trip will save her some money in the long run.
The reason for the trip was to see what the impact of driving with ethanol-free gasoline would be on her car’s fuel consumption. Dependable Energy, on state Route 28 in Shokan, is the only station in the area where she can fill up with ethanol-free gas.
Her plan was to reduce her fuel consumption. But now she feels “ripped off,” she says.
Through the summer of 2007, Linehan said she averaged around 55 miles per gallon, but when she calculated her car’s fuel economy this year, she found her vehicle was burning about a gallon of gasoline for every 45 miles she traveled.
At its best last year, the car, a gas-electric hybrid, achieved nearly 60 miles for each gallon of gas it burned, Linehan said. At its worst this year: 38 miles per gallon.
Linehan called both the dealership and Toyota’s headquarters seeking answers, and the conclusion she drew from the conversations was that the increased use of ethanol in gasoline has hurt her car’s fuel economy.
“Burning ethanol produces fewer BTUs (British thermal units) than gasoline. It has less energy,” said Toyota Spokesman Bill Kwong. However, as a Prius owner himself, Kwong expressed surprise at the numbers Linehan offered.
Kwong said his Prius has always averaged 46 to 48 miles per gallon and that a decline as steep as the one described by Linehan could not be explained by ethanol use alone.
Patrick Bolton, a senior project manager for the New York State Energy Development Research Authority (NYSERDA), agreed.
With gasoline containing 10 percent ethanol, “there should be no more than a 3 percent penalty in fuel economy,” said Bolton, who specializes in alternative fuels and vehicle programs.
Nonetheless, Linehan says her car was able to drive five more miles on each gallon of gas after she bought ethanol-free gasoline twice at Dependable Energy.
In New York state, about half of the commercial gasoline is made up of anywhere from 5 to 10 percent ethanol, according to Bolton.
“It will eventually all be E-10,” he predicted, noting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency capped ethanol content in gasoline at 10 percent because non-”flex fuel” vehicles tend to experience problems like stalling, stuttering and “check engine” lights coming on when they consume fuel with too much ethanol.
The increased use of ethanol in gas has been fueled, in part, by increasing federal renewal fuel standards, Bolton said. Specifically, while the country’s target for this year was to consume 7.8 billion gallons of renewable fuels, Congress has set a goal of 36 billion gallons by 2022.
Regulation is only part of the picture, though, Bolton said, because Americans are on pace to consume 9.1 billion gallons of renewable fuels this year – the reason being that gas retailers have been able to lower their prices by 10 to 15 cents per gallon by adding ethanol.
Bolton said the E-85 blend for “flex fuel” vehicles retails for a national average of about $3.10 per gallon, compared to regular unleaded gasoline’s average of around $4. Even though, “there will be a higher fuel economy penalty” of 15 to 20 percent for 85 percent ethanol compared to a 3 percent penalty at 10 percent, Bolton said. But because it’s 25 percent less expensive, “you still come out ahead.”
Bolton said New York state has between 20 and 25 stations that sell E-85, and 80 another have filed applications with NYSERDA to sell it. Bolton believes E-85 not only is cost-effective, but good for New York’s economy because the state is home to two major ethanol refineries that buy corn stock from local farmers.
Meanwhile, some tips Kwong offered to increase fuel economy included driving more conservatively, carrying less weight and staying diligent about vehicle upkeep. He specifically pointed to maintaining the appropriate tire pressure.
Linehan said her Prius is “up to date on maintenance.”
Leave a reply