In my last column, Ethanol and aircraft: Just say no, I answered some questions about ethanol and its effect on aircraft.
In this column, I would like to address some follow-up questions about ethanol. Specifically, if ethanol causes so many problems with engines, why is it added to fuel and why is fuel with ethanol cheaper than conventional auto gas?
Ethanol was added to auto gas primarily to reduce the amount of carbon monoxide (CO) exhaust emission. The secondary reasons were to reduce our dependence on imported oil and to help the farm community.
The science behind reducing emissions is based on the fact that ethanol contains oxygen, giving it a lower stoichiometric air/fuel ratio. This mean an ethanol blend will lean out the air/fuel mixture.
But if an engine is operating on the lean side of stoichiometric, there should not be any CO produced because there is excess oxygen and all of the carbon atoms are converted to CO2.
The problem is that every car produced since 1968 has operated on the lean side, except when the accelerator squirts in a shot during acceleration or during super high loads when enrichenment kicks in. With all of the new injection engines and feed back systems, there is almost no CO produced.
I have not seen any data that shows that ethanol fuels have a significant effect on CO production in new direct injection modern engines.
On the other side of the coin, with increased prices for corn, many farms are digging out trees and plowing up highly erodible pasture land and planting corn, which has a negative impact on the environment.
Ethanol producers claim that adding ethanol to our fuel has reduced oil imports and caused a drop in crude prices.
One of the problems in today’s world is that people only give half of the story, often leaving out the down side of any solution.
If you look at the benefits of ethanol production, you also must look at what the energy cost is for each gallon. When you add up the amount of fuel it takes to produce the seed, till the soil, plant it, spray it, harvest it, ship it to market, and refine it — plus the energy to produce the fertilizer and all of the other inputs — you find that it takes almost as much energy to produce a gallon of ethanol as the ethanol produces.
The lower crude costs are a result of reduced usage and increased production from areas like North Dakota and Canada.
As far as helping family farms, the ethanol plant near me sold shares for $25,000 each. Even before it started producing any ethanol, the shares were almost worthless. A large ag company eventually bought all of the shares for pennies on the dollar.
In addition, with higher prices, the cost of seed and fertilizer went way up.
Bottom line, if farmers analyze all of the factors, it has not been a great boost for the average family farmer.
As far as the price is concerned, that is another story. To get ethanol usage up, the federal government initially subsidized it for 50 cents a gallon, but that program has ended.
Now there is a new scheme: Lawmakers passed a clean air act that states that all oil companies must blend in a certain percent of ethanol for all of the conventional auto gas they sell. To be able to sell the needed volume of ethanol, they need to reduce the price so that people will buy it.
Now before you write that I am against clean air, I am very much in favor of efforts to clean the air and our environment.
I just have that dumb idea that we need to work on solutions that really make a difference, not ones that do nothing but make a few people richer and others feel good.
This is like the move to get lead out of 100LL. It will not affect the health level of anyone, will not improve the environment in any way, but it does make a few people think that they have done something.
And since they do not ever look at the down side to their actions, nor care, they do not see the risk and costs that they are imparting to the general aviation community.