A Pragmatic Case Against Ethanol

Scientists can determine in a laboratory that one gallon of gasoline has one-and-a-half times the energy measured in BTU’s as one gallon of Ethanol. (British Thermal Units – the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit.) Put another way, one would have to burn 1.5 gallons of ethanol to get the same amount of “work” as 1 gallon of gasoline.

Economists, at least those not bought and paid for by the ethanol industry, tell us that diverting crops – mostly corn – for the production of ethanol reduces food supply, raising prices. Indeed, there have been food riots over high prices in Mexico, Egypt, Pakistan, and other countries where corn is a staple.

In addition, producing ethanol requires energy and the alcohol can damage rubber parts with which it comes into contact, requiring expensive repairs – especially in older cars that were designed to run on gasoline. There is no free lunch.

Although true, the arguments above are high-level arguments that could cause the eyes of some otherwise-disinterested folks to glaze over. Here’s an argument to which you will want to pay attention: Using ethanol-free fuel can save you lots of money. This is where the ‘rubber meets the road.’

Recently a new gas station opened in my suburban Atlanta neighborhood. The price of gas immediately fell by nearly fifteen cents so, of course, I bypassed the existing station across the street to fill up at the new station. Aware of the arguments stated in the opening paragraphs above, I decided to fill up with E-0, or zero percent ethanol fuel.

I drive a four year old, four-cylinder car – definitely not anything that would be considered a gas guzzler. My daily commute across metro Atlanta is 70 miles round trip; I have been driving four days to work on a full tank of gas.

Upon driving with that first tank of E-0, an immediate reduction in RPM (engine revolutions per minute) was noticed, meaning that the engine was not having to work as hard to produce a given speed of travel. Without changing anything else (haven’t bought new tires, didn’t tune up the car, not driving more slowly, or doing anything else differently) besides the fuel, I am now driving five days to work between fill-ups instead of four.

A little non-Common Core math tells me I can reduce the number of times I have to fill up in a year by ten, reducing my fuel consumption by about 125 gallons a year. Imagine if every one of the millions of vehicles – in metro Atlanta alone – could do that! Hint: Think Econ101 – supply and demand.

The bottom line is that I’ll save a little over $200 a year by buying fuel that is fifty cents more a gallon than the ubiquitous E10 (ten percent ethanol) fuel.

Does ethanol burn cleaner? Probably. Does it burn cleaner than 125 gallons of fuel not burned in a year? Color me highly doubtful of that. Ethanol is just one more example of a government meddling, crony capitalism, feel-good policy that does not provide all the benefits claimed.

Skeptical? Fine. Try it yourself and see.