Skip to main content
Updated date:

Pros and Cons of Ethanol in Gas

All gas has been increasing the amount of ethanol.

All gas has been increasing the amount of ethanol.

What is ethanol?

Ethanol is the same type of alcohol that is found in an alcoholic drink. It's often used in motor vehicle gasoline as an additive. Our gasoline today contains roughly 10% ethanol, E10. With this fuel composition, it has close to the same amount of energy potential that straight gasoline does, only 2-3% less. And if you want to use ethanol fuel (E100), it takes 1.5 gallons of E100 to equal the same amount of energy given by 1 gallon of gasoline. So you ask why this would be so bad besides the increased cost of running a higher ethanol rated fuel? Why are people starting to use this gas more? Let's take a look at some of the bad and good about ethanol gasoline. We will talk about some general good news, bad news, and how ethanol effects small engines a little more specifically. I always like hearing the bad news first.

How to increase gas mileage

Gas mileage decrease

One of the bad things that happens with ethanol is that your mileage will actually decrease. The New York Times stated that E10 gasoline, which is the gas we use in America, actually gives you 2-3 miles per gallon less than gasoline. E85 is a flex-fuel with 85% ethanol loses 7-8 miles per gallon. With gas mileage decreasing, you need to buy more fuel for the same distance and while writing this the average price per gallon for E85 is $3.30. The average price for gasoline is $3.86 while writing this.

Now, my vehicle gets around 21 gallons per mile, unless I am hauling something. Cutting my mileage down by 25% makes E85 a more expensive option for me. To accomplish the same mileage per gallon it would cost me $3.86 for gasoline and $4.13 for E85. Do not let the price per gallon fool you if you are looking for cost efficiency.

Ethanol and Small Engines

One of the issues with ethanol is that it attracts water and it does break down faster than gasoline. This is not much of an issue with transportation vehicles. But with small engines this can be a huge problem.

With water absorbing into the fuel, there is the chance that rust will form on the interior of the engine. For obvious reasons, this is bad for any piece of equipment. The particles that get into the gas from rust flakes will clog up the fuel filter sooner or later. It is possible that these flakes will also cause damage to the pistons, rings, seals, and any number of other components of the engine.

Ethanol increases gasoline vapor pressure which may cause a vapor lock in the carburetor. This fuel starvation will prevent the engine from starting. This is an issue in higher altitudes and hot weather. Make sure to be storing gasoline with an ethanol mixture properly and to use it in a timely fashion.

Gasoline with ethanol decreases the life of the engine and its parts. The alcohol is not good for seals and causes a quicker break-down. Having a cleaning agent like this constantly in a small engine that was not engineered for this fuel mixture simply ages it at a faster rate.

The ethanol in E10 gas breaks down quickly. An MTD area representative informed me that E10 begins to break down within 3 weeks. This break down creates clumps in the gasoline mixture at some point and this may clog the filter, carburetor, fuel line, etc. To help prevent this a person should purchase a product such as Sta-bil and add it as directed to their gas. This will help prolong the life of the gas and keep it from harming your small engine as much. Talking with an area small engine repair shop, the E10 breaking down is the major cause of equipment being sent in. And after inspection, diagnosis, repair and testing it generally cost between $50.00 and $60.00 even when the issue is simply bad gas. They drain the system and add new gas that has a stabilizer in it after diagnosing the issue.

These issues are more dramatic with small engines, but they also occur with transportation vehicles. The difference being that transportation vehicles are now being designed for this gasoline, but there are still effects such as above that occur - just on a lesser scale.

How ethanol is good

In the United States, ethanol is created from corn. The largest crop produced in the United States, roughly 72,700,000 acres of land go towards growing corn. During the time of writing this hub that is about $15,100,000,000 per year. Approximately 7% of the national corn yield went into making ethanol in 2001 and that increased to about 39% in 2010. And some of you may be wondering way.

One of the political reasons for using ethanol over gasoline is to prevent America from heading into a greater mercy hold of foreign oil producing countries. Which is a good reason for a purely political nation. But let's look at some of the propaganda that the government is using to get people really behind this change.

Ethanol is a much cleaner than gasoline. In 2006, Wisconsin had 16 percent fewer high-ozone days than the inception of E10 in 1994. With less pollution being released into the atmosphere we are helping our world stay healthier for longer. This is definitely a great reason to use fuel with higher levels of ethanol.

The use of more ethanol will create more jobs for Americans. By creating more manufacturing jobs to produce more ethanol we are creating a solution for the American worker that is out of work. America helping Americans.

Because ethanol is alcohol, your gas lines will not freeze during the winter months. This is a good side effect of using higher levels of ethanol. Although, I wouldn't guarantee this world wide, but for most climates that have human residence - it is a safe bet.

Overall, the two main reasons for having America change from gasoline over to a high percentage ethanol fuel is to take away the oil-based power of the middle east and the second is that it will help our planet with the cleaner burn.

More on the penny

The cost for the United States Mint to produce and distribute the cent and nickel rose to their highest levels, and are now more than double the respective face values. For the fiscal year ending September 30, 2011, the unit cost for the cent was 2.41 cents and the cost for the nickel was 11.18 cents.

Looking more into the clean burn

I agree that we need to be more environmentally conscious. But it seems the change from gasoline to E85 is much more political than health conscious. For each gallon of ethanol created there is a tax break of $0.51 that comes from the Federal Highway Trust Fund. This is a guaranteed amount, it reminds me of a corn farmer outreach system. It will be interesting to see if this will perpetuate an increase in corn prices by creating a static demand for corn.

Another interesting fact is that sugar cane is actually a much more cost efficient resource for creating ethanol. Six times more efficient, actually. But since America does not grow it we have placed a $0.54 tariff on sugar ethanol imported from Brazil. This leads to using the more inefficiently produced corn ethanol. And creates more jobs for the American people.

Read More from AxleAddict

The bad part is that we use more energy to make ethanol than the ethanol will produce. This reminds me about the United States penny. We use something that holds a value of $0.01 but it costs $2.41 to produce a penny. What I do not understand is with a tax break being issued for ethanol we set a minimum value on corn. Which increases the cost of corn for food production. Sooner or later the price of the tax break will increase, and thus increase food production - etc. And if you have agricultural animals, you know that prices have jumped over the last couple years. Even bird seed has increased quite rapidly.

President Obama is requiring that automobiles have the flex-fuel option in hopes that people will use this option. The more people who use this option means that we will use a greater percentage of the national corn yield towards ethanol gas. And this increases the cost of food products, which creates competition for the ethanol fuel. Notice that this is the second time that I have mentioned this - it is important. And 328 gallons of ethanol can be created from 1 acre of land.

So in 2011, with the total acreage of land used for corn puts the United States at a total of 23,845,600,000 gallons of ethanol in one year of 100% of all corn is put towards ethanol. If we changed over to E85 we could produce 27,422,440,000 gallons of E85 if there was no waste. In 2005, the United States consumed 386,000,000 gallons - a day. So if we used all of our corn towards creating E85 fuel, we would be self-sufficient, for 71 days.

What do you think about ethanol?

Alternative fuels

I am not against alternative fuels. I simply wish that as a nation we would get behind a fuel that is more realistic to produce to be self-sufficient. I would love to see this world be healthy for future generations. I worry about the world my children will live in and try to teach them how to care for what we have. But it seems that the biggest concern from many of our politicians it what they can get the American people to believe and make themselves look good. Ethanol fuel would be a great idea if it were more realistic. When you create competition between a food staple and transportation, then the concept doesn't seem too plausible without increasing the cost of food products.

If you have any comments, please leave them. I would be interested in knowing your point of views and opinion. If you agree with this share it and let your friends and families read it. We need a nation of people questioning our nation's goals during this time in history.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: Should the U.S. put 10% of ethanol in their gas?

Answer: With the issues and inefficiency in conversion, I don't think ethanol is a great option to enforce.

Question: Why don't we use more natural gas or propane?

Answer: I would assume it is because of politics as well as supply and demand.

Question: When it takes a gallon of diesel fuel (Farm tractors and shipping product by trucks), how is Ethanol less polluting to our environment than gasoline?

Answer: There are many studies that say if you look at production from start to finish, then ethanol does not produce less pollution.

Question: Wasnt ethanol was first blended with gas to replace MTBE which was an additive used with regular gas which was cancer-causing and found leaching into groundwater? At 10 percent, this was a valid solution? I'm not sure about higher rates.

Answer: MTBE is controversial, but I do believe in some countries still used in low quantities. MTBE is not classified as a human carcinogen though.

Question: I don’t think ethanol is a great solution because of the problems with marine and small engines. My friend just replaced the fuel tanks in his houseboat for $15,000. Do you think that makes sense?

Answer: It does make sense in that, I am not shocked that it occurred. But with marine applications, many people do pay a premium to purchase ethanol free gas. This would prevent this from being an issue.

Question: How does ethanol burn cleaner than gasoline?

Answer: Many would argue that it isn't cleaner, but that they burn differently. It has been shown that they both burn higher amounts of different carcinogens.

Question: You forgot to mention that ETOH made from naturally growing grasses, wood chips, ie., Cellulose sources reduces carbon footprint by 30%. Wee will never run out of it and we don't need corn. What's in your wallet?.....Exon?

Answer: You are absolutely correct, although there are no companies that are advancing these resources and to my knowledge no government agencies pushing these sources as well. Last time these methods were used were during the World Wars and there are some individuals who build their own systems for these fuel sources by modifying their vehicles. It could be a great source, but the lack of reality in your statement shows a little bit of bias.

Question: How does ethanol as an energy source work?

Answer: It is less efficient than gasoline, but it is still a combustible and therefore functional as a fuel.

Question: Why did you use the long since debunked David Pimental study instead of the Department of Energy studies that prove conclusively that even making corn alcohol is an efficient way to make energy?

Answer: I have also read the Department of Energy Studies that claim that the footprint of making ethanol is not more efficient. With newer technology, it is becoming so, but we are not there yet. These new methods can't support themselves financially either. So in regards to the conclusiveness, it isn't at the time of writing this.

Question: I know we can't get rid of ethanol, but can we cut back on the use of it to save our gas mileages?

Answer: If our society wasn't as political driven as it is, we could get rid of ethanol gas. As an individual anyone can cut back on the gasoline they use. Good advice to help save mileage, environment, and make us healthier people.

Question: In MO, we can get gas without ethanol. If I mix it 50/50 with ethanol gas (making about 5%) is there any benefit like making the gas ok or so Sta-bil will last longer? The issue is with classic cars that aren't driven much. And is ANY ethanol a problem? Should I drain the tanks completely before putting in ethanol free gas?

Answer: I would drain the tank and then add new. In most cases, you can get by with a mild ethanol blend but it would matter on the date of a vehicle and require more specific knowledge.

Question: How will ethanol affect my 1973 AMC GREMLIN’S engine?

Answer: It would matter what engine you have, but I wouldn't want to run ethanol in my vehicles - older or newer.

Question: If my Harley is ruined by Ethanol, can I sue the government?

Answer: I am not a legal expert, but my thinking would be they wouldn't be liable at all because there are other choices of fuel. I do know plenty of people who use ethanol gas in their Harley, though.

Question: Why are car companies still building, selling and using combustion motors when the electric engine could have and should have been built and used over 70 years ago?

Answer: Generally, unless there is motivation to change - there is no change. Gas has been the standard and will continue to be the standard, ethanol was a drive mainly for environmentalist reasons. Electrical has pro's and con's as well. There are already issues with our electrical grid in the United States, so major increases to the use of electric may have more negative issues than most people realize. Much more complicated question than you may realize.

Question: I wonder how electric vehicles compare to regular gasoline and E85, in terms of financial, economic and political impact?

Answer: Watching Tesla, I do not think we are at the point for any major transitions. In the future, this may very well be a great alternative but many advances need to occur with public opinion as well as availability and cost.

Question: Is ethanol a renewable energy resource?

Answer: Ethanol is a by-product and is renewable. There continue to be improvements in manufacturing, but currently it is not an effective process and we could make ethanol after fossil fuel runs out - although that will be tens of thousands of years with current processes. If you want to watch a more efficient and environmentally conscious method, keep an eye on China and electric cars.

Question: Can using 10% ethanol in your gas make your car "ping" and cause engine damage?

Answer: I am not an expert in this area, but I would look instead at oil. Could be a lifter arm that is hitting, but there is very little chance that it is caused by ethanol gas.

Question: I recently road-tripped and noted all the pro-ethanol signage in gas stations east of Utah. I understand, were I a farmer receiving gov't assistance for growing Monsanto corn, I'd want ethanol promoted as well! My question: Is there ethanol in CA gas? And if so, why isn't it a big deal out west?

Answer: There is ethanol in the CA gas. I can only speculate on why it isn't talked on much. I would make the assumption that a lot of the mentality is more democratic and attempting to support a "cleaner" system - and supporting what the government pushes and accepting it as good. There is also more influence from corn farmers in that direction and this would create an acceptance as well. As stated, all assumptions and I can't say there is anything necessarily bad about it - just different than my perspective.

Question: Why should we make ethanol if it is not a great option?

Answer: There are a lot of potentials for it, but politics became involved and pushed this fuel too soon - my personal opinion.

Question: If ethanol is so great, how come it settles and you need to treat or stabilize it?

Answer: Ethanol is different, I do not perceive it as a cure or more beneficial. It appears that way if you use the benchmarks for gasoline, but that doesn't show the negative of ethanol. A lot of this debate is political motivated and in the near future I believe there will be a shift in industry as transportation changes to electrical transportation.

Question: E85 is the fuel to use for performance because of its octane rating. Makes big horsepower numbers with a good tune. I wish it was more available; I would use it daily. Does the USA population realize the efficiency of that?

Answer: I do not think anyone is arguing this point, many of us are concerned with many of the other issues. Going fast is not a concern to the vast majority of drivers, we are looking for efficiency.

Question: Which gas containing ethanol should I use in my Toyota Camry?

Answer: Any that you would like, there are different additives in gasoline but many of those are not a concern to many people.

Question: How many gallons of water does it take to make 1 gallon of ethanol?

Answer: It takes roughly 3.5 gallons of water to make one gallon of ethanol. This is a little more than it takes to make 1 gallon of gasoline.

Question: How much does it cost to make a penny?

Answer: In 2011, it cost $2.41. In 2013, the cost did drop to $1.83 it appears.

Question: Are electric cars crap?

Answer: I would not say that electric cars are crap, although I do think that they will be many advancements because of the early nature of the electric car. And currently, one of the cost factors is the inefficient manufacturing of them.

Related Articles