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Pros and Cons of Ethanol in Gas

Updated on February 22, 2017
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. Often used in motor vehicle gasoline as an additive. Our gasoline today contains roughly 10% ethanol, E10. With this fuel composition, which has close to the same amount of energy potential that straight gasoline does, only 2-3% less. And if you want to use an 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? And on the other hand, 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.

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?

Is E85 fuel the answer to current gas issues?

See results

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.


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    • Davesworld profile image

      Davesworld 5 years ago from Cottage Grove, MN 55016

      Ethanol is a scam designed to ensure reelection of farm belt Congresscritters. No nation can survive by burning up its food supply.

    • CJ Andrews profile image

      Chris Andrews 5 years ago from Norwalk, Ohio

      In Ohio, it seems like quite a few people are believers. But the whole process just doesn't make sense to me. Thanks for your comment Dave.

    • putnut profile image

      putnut 5 years ago from Central Illinois or wherever else I am at the moment.

      I could have and should have written this hub. Almost all of it I already knew and get irritated by. The lies and deception that most people simply buy as truth amazes me. Good job making the facts so many are unaware of clear. I hope this gets a lot of readership.

    • CJ Andrews profile image

      Chris Andrews 5 years ago from Norwalk, Ohio

      Yeah, and this is only one subject that's surface is scratched. The old natural gas scare and now the oil scare and all the hype. But people seem to be following more and questioning less.

    • eaglecreek profile image

      Jason 4 years ago from Vilonia , Arkansas

      Great article, I love studying energy.

      Interesting how the anti ethanol people lead you to believe corn is the only foodstock ethanol can be made from. There are so many other crops that can be grown to make ethanol and give you a much greater EROI (energy return on investment).

    • CJ Andrews profile image

      Chris Andrews 4 years ago from Norwalk, Ohio

      The problem is that in the United States there is a tax break on corn that is used for ethanol. Other crops in the US do not have as much sugar, I guess one of the other crops that could be used would be carrots, but I have not heard of this. In South America you have sugar cane, but it doesn't grow the best in North America. And they put a high tax on sugar cane imports in the United States. How the US is handling this is a bad situation.

    • eaglecreek profile image

      Jason 4 years ago from Vilonia , Arkansas

      CJ – I agree with you, our gov seems to leave all the intelligent people in this country scratching their head. Its as if they try to make everything work on the opposite end of efficient, and mainstream america wonders why we have so much debt lol.

      I live in rural Arkansas in the Mississippi delta area. My grandfather told me when he was young they grew sorghum cane anywhere they wanted for molasses. I always wondered what kind of ethanol yield one could get from this being as its so inefficient to grow sugar.

    • CJ Andrews profile image

      Chris Andrews 4 years ago from Norwalk, Ohio

      I wasn't aware of this yield. I would be interested in knowing as well. I know sweet feeds have a shelf life of 110 days in most stores, so it would seem that even when processing it that there would be a high level of sugar. I have been thinking about getting an old truck and converting it to wood gas. There is also getting an old diesel car and converting it to vegetable oil, but the wood gas would be more efficient. Talked to one guy today who gets 26 miles per gallon on veg. oil.

    • eaglecreek profile image

      Jason 4 years ago from Vilonia , Arkansas

      I will for sure make ethanol in the near future. Its pretty cheap to make. As for bio diesel/veggie oil, im a bit skeptical. The people that sell the bio diesel kits lead you to believe that every restaurant out there is willing to give away 50 plus gallons of old cooking oil a week. It makes no sense when diesel is so expensive. If you could get it for free/cheap, it wont last long as people realize how valuable the old oil is.

      That's my thoughts but what do I know im just a simple country boy

    • CJ Andrews profile image

      Chris Andrews 4 years ago from Norwalk, Ohio

      I think it is already getting hard to come by. I do like the idea, but the reality of it is that its not a good move. Now wood gas on the other hand, I think it has a lot of potential - especially when you own land.

    • profile image

      unknown 2 years ago

      i agree with davesworld

    • profile image

      ksarith 12 months ago

      One thing not covered in your article is the fact that older vehicles do not fully burn the ethanol and that leads to catylitic converter failure

    • profile image

      M A Yeager 9 months ago

      Here it is 2016 already and the argue goes on, The Oregon legislature is unwilling to listen to the opponents of the requirement of ethanol in our auto fuel. In Oregon we have Premium gas without ethanol for our motorcycles, boats and small engines.

      The fight here is to get rid of ethanol entirely.

      Why are there no government studies to determine how the addition of ethanol either enhances or detracts from the efficiency of motor vehicle use?

      I suspect it is because the government doesn't want the population to know the true facts. After all, the government is in this mess up to their economic necks and are unwilling to admit they made a mistake.

    • profile image

      JDnHuntsvilleAL 2 months ago

      "An MTD area representative informed me that E10 begins to break down within 3 weeks. "


      WHAT! I drive so little that I only fill up once every TWO months! So what is this crappy fuel doing to my engine (2015 Highlander)?

    • profile image

      Tyler 7 weeks ago

      Ethanol is a cleaner burning fuel and it is better for the enviroment.

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