Consumer’s wallets are being hit hard from two directions: 1.) Gasoline prices are on the rise and 2.) More mileage-reducing ethanol is being added to gasoline.
In exchange for becoming more “green,” car owners are going to face a trade-off with certain problems that ethanol blends can cause in their vehicles, as well as boats. The Environmental Protection Agency’s increase of ethanol concentration to 15 percent in gasoline will increase these problems.
Pure ethanol has a strong ability to absorb water from the atmosphere around it. This is also true of ethanol/gasoline blends. When water accumulates in a fuel or storage tank, it causes “phase separation.” That’s when the ethanol “phase” separates from the gasoline “phase” and results in two layers of two different compounds, instead of a homogenous mixture of gasoline and ethanol.
The separation of ethanol from gasoline causes a loss of 2 to 4 octane points in the fuel mixture. That can drag the octane value of an 87-octane fuel down to 83 to 84, which is unsatisfactory for most vehicles.
When the ethanol-water mixture settles to the bottom of the tank, it will eventually be injected into the combustion chamber, where it will burn like an overly lean mixture. Burning this kind of fuel can cause valve damage; leave deposits on valves and fuel injectors, cause rough running, poor engine performance and a drop in fuel economy.
Consequently, there is a substantial market for additives to treat ethanol blends and offset these problems. Some are better than others. The best ethanol additives contain combustion improvers to blunt the mileage drop, detergents to clean out deposits and any dissolved resin buildup, an ingredient to disperse and control water buildup and an ingredient to protect rubber and plastic parts from ethanol solvency.
Beware of products that make outrageous claims and guarantees — if it seems too good to be true, it very likely is. There are several reputable producers of water absorbing, mileage-enhancing products. Arguably the best of those few producers is Bell Performance, a company that has survived for almost 100 years, perhaps because they make a product that works.
Remarkably, Bell Performance products have never been sold by conventional retailers, but have been bought directly from the manufacturer by car and truck fleet managers. That situation is about to change to satisfy anticipated consumer demand. For more information go to www.bellperformance.com or www.wefixfuel.com.
In many states, it’s hard to find a gas station that isn’t selling at least 10 percent ethanol in their gasoline; you see the warning stickers on all of the pumps. Most people don’t really know why it’s put into gasoline; they just know they may have heard bad things about it.
Ethanol is an “oxygenate,” meaning it increases the oxygen content of the fuel that it is blended into. The EPA mandates the introduction of oxygenates into gasoline, as a way to reduce emissions like carbon monoxide.
The blending of the oxygenate MTBE into gasoline began in 1992, but scientific evidence regarding ill-health effects and contaminated ground water led to its withdrawal from the market. Ethanol has displaced MTBE as the oxygenate of choice for gasoline.
Ethanol blended into gasoline at a 10/85 percent ratio makes fuel that produces lower levels of carbon monoxide, unburned hydrocarbons, particulate matter and harmful aromatic compound emissions than pure gasoline.
Oxygenates like ethanol and MTBE are also octane enhancers. Pure ethanol has an octane rating of 113, while E10 blends are 87 to 93. The fuel blender uses a lower octane base gasoline to end up with the same octane rating in the E10 blend as they had before. Unfortunately, drivers don’t get an added octane benefit with E10.
Here in the U.S., ethanol is made from corn, making it a renewable fuel that reduces oil imports. This is a big plus for many people who want to be more “green.”
The increase in the amount of ethanol allowed in the U.S. gasoline supply will cause a further drop in fuel economy. Pure ethanol has a gross BTU value 35 percent less than the equivalent amount of gasoline. The commonly found E10 blend only has 10 percent ethanol, so the actual drop in energy value is about 3.5 percent to 5.0 percent.
An additional 5 percent increase may not seem like that much, but consumers have already demonstrated that they are extremely interested in fuel economy and won’t take a further reduction lightly. — Dave Van Sickle, Motor Matters
Copyright, AutoWriters Associates Inc., 2011