The Corn Lobby Loses One . . . Maybe

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Maybe.

The Environmental Protection Agency – usually strident, ideological and unreasonable – has suggested doing something reasonable: It has proposed reducing the total amount (and the percentage) of ethanol adulteration of gasoline.

Probably because it’s unavoidably necessary – to cover up a burgeoning debacle (think Obamacare and the delayed rollout of certain aspects of it).

Instead of 18.15 billion gallons of corn crap, just 15 or so billion gallons would be sloshed into our fuel tanks – and no more than 10 percent of the stuff per gallon of “gas,” which is the amount we currently have to accept. (See here for the news story).

As recently as last year, it seemed all-but-certain that EPA would mandate E15 – 15 percent ethanol. E85 (85 percent ethanol) was on deck.

But every now and then, reality intrudes and displaces the unicorn dreams of politicians and bureaucrats. The increasing dosage of ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply was causing several serious and all-too-obvious problems that could no longer be swept under the rug.

Firstly, even people who aren’t policy wonks or “car people” have noticed that a gallon of gas does not take them as far as it used to. Which stands to reason, because most of the “gas” out there is already up to 10 percent ethanol (E10), per EPA mandate. Since there is less energy in E10 than in unadulterated gas, it takes more E10 to drive a given distance, vs. the same volume of gasoline. The disparity is particularly obvious when one compares mileage using a tankful of E10 vs. a tank of straight gas – which is still available in many parts of the country if you look around a little bit (see here).

Less-energy ethanol is one of the chief reason why – despite numerous technological Great Leaps Forward such as direct-injection (fuel sprayed directly into the combustion chamber under extremely high pressure), eight-speed (and CVT and automated manual) transmissions, cylinder deactivation (a V-8 that runs on four cylinders when demand for power is light), Auto-Stop (the car’s computer turns off the engine automatically when the vehicle is not moving, then automatically restarts it when the driver pushes down on the accelerator) the fuel economy of new cars is not very spectacular. Especially when compared with the fuel economy achieved by cars built decades ago, which did not have the technological advantages of today – but did have the advantage of unadulterated fuel.

Thirty years ago, 40 MPG cars were common. Today, only a relative handful of cars hit that mark. A new (2014) Toyota Corolla, for instance, carries an EPA rating of 28 city, 37 highway. This is ok, but nothing much to write home about – in view of the fact that a 1985 Corolla rated nearly the same – 26 city and 33 highway (see here) – without the benefit of the technology advances of the ensuing 30 years. One of the reasons the ’14 and the ’85 are so close to one another, MPG-wise, is due to the fact that the ’14 is impaired by inferior (in terms of energy density) fuel. The EPA – which publishes fuel economy stats – tests new cars using E10, not straight gas.

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