Ethanol: A big, dangerous lie.

Over the past year or so, pretty much all of the gas stations in our area have started carrying gas with 10% Ethanol. Around that same time, we noticed our beloved 92 Honda Civic started getting worse gas mileage. Where we used to squeeze almost 40mpg out of it on the highway, we were mysteriously looking at a number far lower, hovering around 33-34mpg. The car is old, and had had some recent engine work, however, so we couldn’t quite pin it totally on a change in gasoline.

This past weekend, all of that changed. While on the road to Savannah, we found a station which advertised “no ethanol” in it’s gas, which frankly surprised us because we thought it was now everywhere. Well, wouldn’t you know, that tank of gas went about 12% further than the previous one, under near-identical driving conditions.

Hmm.

There is a growing list of reasons to be extremely wary of the greenwashing that is corn-based ethanol production. First, while production methods have improved enough to no longer require more energy to grow the corn than is released from burning the fuel, there are still other factors to consider like water usage, and pesticide contamination. There’s a rather in-depth discussion of the efficiency of it over on The Oil Drum, but the gist of the argument is that using corn as fuel isn’t a very good long-term solution.

One other factor in using ethanol is how it is going to affect the world’s food supply. As more land is being used to grow crops for our gas tanks, less land is being used to grow crops for food. While this may be a short term gain for farmers growing the corn, ultimately it is not a sustainable solution. This topic is covered in depth in a 2007 article in Foreign Affairs magazine.

Summary:
Thanks to high oil prices and hefty subsidies, corn-based ethanol is now all the rage in the United States. But it takes so much supply to keep ethanol production going that the price of corn — and those of other food staples — is shooting up around the world. To stop this trend, and prevent even more people from going hungry, Washington must conserve more and diversify ethanol’s production inputs.

Now, studies are being published that show the increased demand for corn, and it’s resultant fertilizer pollution are contributing to yet another disaster in the Gulf Of Mexico. This graphic from an article in the SFGate shows the “Dead Zone” in the Gulf, as compared to the current BP oil spill.

As the graphic states, the Dead Zone is caused by fertilizer from cornfields running down the Mississippi river and flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, where the nitrogen causes massive algae blooms that consume the ocean’s oxygen, leaving all the living things in it to die of suffocation. As demand for corn-based ethanol and feed for factory farmed animals has increased, so has the size of the dead zone. Continuing on in this fashion could ultimately be more harmful to the gulf than the current oil spill disaster.

So after doing a little research, I just can’t be convinced that continuing this folly of corn-based fuel is a good idea. The damage it has done to our gas mileage and pocketbooks is just the last nail in the coffin. I think it’s time to end these ridiculous subsidies for such a damaging product and allow our farmers to go back to diversifying their fields, and let truly efficient forms of renewable energy take the funding currently being wasted.

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10 thoughts on “Ethanol: A big, dangerous lie.

  1. My sister’s motorcycle had to have extensive work and her mechanic said ethanol ruins the seals and gaskets. After the second round of replacements she switched gas and hasn’t needed any more repairs.

  2. I drive a 2001 Hyundai, When we lived in South Florida and it’s ridiculous traffic I got 40mpg easy, no ethanol options there, and at the time that upset me as I thought it was the ‘greener’ option. On the drive from Florida to the Midwest I got 49.8 mpg on no ethanol, I keep all my gas receipts and a log book to record my mileage, yes, I’m anal, but being able to prove that my car got nearly 50mpg makes me giddy. In the midwest, EVERYTHING is ethanol, still deluded, I was happy I had a greener option available. Then I noticed my mileage dropping by more than 10-15mpg. Thats a HUGE difference, coupled with better insight into ethanol, I quit using it. My mpg never recovered and now I’m lucky to get 25mpg in town, in lots less traffic. This is a Corn State so my comments on the delusions of ethanol go unheard.
    The world is full of sheeple.

    ~Kelli @ Smidgens

    • Hit “send” too soon, I meant to also ask, what do you mean your mileage never recovered? Do you mean it did permanent damage to your car?
      I’m curious about the corrosive-ness of it, especially regarding my scooter.

      • Even though I quit using ethanol, and replaced all the fluids in my car I could in order to ‘start fresh’ My mpg has never gone back up to the 40mpg I used to get in a high traffic area (even the interstates were start and stop!) I drive a lot less start-and-stop now, much more highway, and I’m lucky if I can squeek 30mpg. I also burn thru oil now, and I never did before, I don’t know if it’s related or due to the age of the car but either way, I don’t like it. My Dad says in theory you should get better mileage because Ethanol would clean out gunk build-up, but after my experience he noticed a significant drop in his mpg too. I feel like it might have done permanent damage to the inside of the engine that effected its performance, perhaps etching the metal itself? It makes sense if it’s corrosive enough to clean up gas gunk, it would also eat other rubber items. The very first tank of ethanol I used dropped my MPG by 3, and each fill up since dropped it even more. Now the big to-do here is E85, another ethanol based fuel, but requires a special engine. I feel the whole corn based fuel supply is like putting a band-aid on a severed limb, you think it’s helping but you’re still bleeding to death. Sorry, I got wordy, I hate what it’s done to my sweet little efficient car.

      • One of the things I read was that it had to be transported in separate tanks from the gas (and mixed on arrival) because it had to go in special trucks that wouldn’t corrode. 0_o

        It does tick me off especially with older cars, because they tend to get better gas mileage than new ones in many cases, simply because older cars often don’t have all the added weight of new mandated “safety” gear, plus all the modern extras like power this-and-that. Our 18 year old Honda gets (still, even w/ the ethanol) better mpg than any of the new Hondas, even the hybrids. I’m sorry for your poor car. If I find anything out about how to correct the problem, I’ll pass it on.

  3. Pingback: Standing On Top » Stop using E10 Gas, it is a Scam!

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