Why Ethanol Fuels are a BAD Idea

A recent article in Forbes says the U.S. ethanol policy is under siege.
Good!  It should be under siege, as it’s extremely stupid for a number of reasons:

First, it’s gravely outdated.  “Today’s ethanol industry began in the 1970s when petroleum-based fuel became expensive and environmental concerns involving leaded gasoline created a need for an octane” (Source).  The move was meant to better oxygenate fuels, thereby reducing harmful emissions, particularly CO (carbon monoxide).  HOWEVER, that was the era before emissions controls became mandatory.  Carburetors were ubiquitous.  Catalytic converters were very rare.  Adjustments in ignition timing and mixture were produced by two means, if at all:  Advancement in timing as a function of engine RPM and fuel control as a function of air velocity passing through the carburetor with an augmented “pumper” for when the throttle was floored (wide open).  As a result, engines burned fairly rich, and fairly dirty.

Modern engines, however, sense environmental temperature and oxygen levels, exhaust gas temperature and oxygen, and a host of other things, automatically adjusting ignition timing and fuel injection to produce far cleaner lean burning engines which carry an excess of oxygen throughout the combustion process.  As a result, they produce only a tiny fraction of the CO of, say, a 1968 Mustang.  Ethanol fuels have almost zero impact on emissions as there’s almost nothing left to impact.

Second, it’s both grossly less efficient and more expensive. Ethanol contains approx. 34% less energy per unit volume than gasoline, and therefore in theory, burning pure ethanol in a vehicle reduces miles per US gallon 34%, given the same fuel economy, compared to burning pure gasoline. For E10 (10% ethanol and 90% gasoline), the effect is small (~3%) when compared to conventional gasoline. According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the average American driver puts in 13,474 miles behind the wheel each year. Furthermore, cars and light trucks sold in the United States hit a new record for fuel efficiency last year — 23.6 miles per gallon, on average. Even at that high rate, your average motorist will burn 17.1 more gallons — $39.22 and about a tank full — each year while simultaneously paying $91.52 more at the pump, and for WHAT?  Well, NOTHING if they own a modern vehicle.
Third, it’s not a cure-all: “A study by atmospheric scientists at Stanford University found that E85 fuel would increase the risk of air pollution deaths relative to gasoline by 9% in Los Angeles, US: a very large, urban, car-based metropolis that is a worst-case scenario. Ozone levels are significantly increased, thereby increasing photochemical smog and aggravating medical problems such as asthma.” Why? Because burning ethanol is NOT “clean.” It produces CO2, H20, and aldehydes, the latter of which cause serious breathing problems:  “Exposures to formaldehyde, acrolein, and other aldehydes occur at work, in homes, and outdoors. Inhalation of high doses of formaldehyde has produced nasal tumors in laboratory rats, and lower concentrations have irritated eyes and air passages in humans. However, information is limited regarding the adverse human health effects caused by aldehydes other than formaldehyde. Emissions from motor vehicles using gasoline and diesel fuels add to the outdoor levels of aldehydes, including formaldehyde and acrolein. The projected use of methanol and ethanol as alternative fuels and in fuel blends may increase outdoor aldehyde levels because alcohol combustion yields more aldehydes than conventional fuel combustion. In view of the known and potential health effects of formaldehyde and acrolein, the Clean Air Act of 1990 defines them as hazardous air pollutants that are subject to regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency. At concentrations exceeding usual outdoor levels, aldehyde inhalation can alter breathing patterns by narrowing airway openings (airway constriction). It can also damage cells lining the airways, prompting white blood cells to enter the lungs” (Source).
Bottom line, ethanol fuels are outdated, costly, and surprisingly, even more polluting than the fuels they intend to replace.