Important Points About Ethanol As Fuel

Friday, June 12, 2015

The following is an open letter from Marc Rauch, the executive vice president and co-publisher of The Auto Channel to Loren Steffy, writer for Chron. Reprinted here with Marc Rauch's permission.

Hi Loren -

I just had the opportunity to read your "Ethanol Chronicle" series that was published on the Houston Chronicle website from February to March 2007. (

Yes, I realize that that was eight years ago, but one of the great aspects of the Internet is that things are often where they were left for anyone to see and comment on.

Nothing much has changed in the efforts to find an alternative to petroleum oil engine fuels. Likewise, the typical arguments used against ethanol in 2007 are still being used today. So while I'm very tardy in commenting on your series, I think that my counter-arguments are as fresh as ever. Additionally, while the same arguments are still being used against ethanol, the research and science has progressed considerably. It may be too late to include my comments at the bottom of the Houston Chronicle webpages, but perhaps you will revisit the subject again in the near future and find my remarks useful to that new effort.

It seems to me that your experience with using E85 was generally very positive and intuitive. For example, the fueling process didn't require learning any new pumping or safety techniques, and you didn't have to travel extended distances to unsavory filling station locations. I mention this because if you were doing a comparison between using a gasoline-powered vehicle and a CNG-powered vehicle you would have had to learn some new pumping techniques, learn to wrestle with obstinate CNG hoses, and get acquainted with some dark CNG fueling facilities that you wouldn't want your wife or daughter to have to use on their own. (Incidentally, I own a dedicated CNG vehicle and I'm a big fan of this alt fuel, but it does present these challenges.)

What's more, your story didn't indicate any performance difficulties or changes when you used the E85. I would describe your experience with the flex fuel vehicle and the fuel as having been "seamless." I presume you would agree with that.

The negative experience would have been the lower MPG from E85 as compared to regular gasoline (I assume it was E10, but might have been some other formulation that was available to you in 2007). By my calculations you experienced about an 18% reduction in MPG. However, you correctly assessed that the lower price of E85 mitigated the loss in MPG, and could even make the lower MPG irrelevant by providing a net gain from using E85. As a matter of interest, at the E85 filling station that I typically use, E85 is nearly 25% less than E10. So even if I experienced 18% fewer MPG I would come out well ahead. As it turns out, my MPG loss is not nearly so great (under 10% difference), so I come out far ahead.

Along the way you were exposed (or perhaps re-exposed) to some of the negative criticisms of ethanol, such as the Pimentel-Patzek EROEI claims and the limitations of E85 availability. And your series concluded with what I feel is Henry Groppe's biased pro-petroleum oil praise.

Before I continue, I would like to tell you that what I thought was really great about your test was that you did it by renting a flex fuel vehicle. Your experience is the first I've ever come across in which an "objective" journalist writing about ethanol fuels actually stepped up to the plate and did a real on-the-road comparison. Time after time I've read critical reviews of ethanol in which there was no hands-on testing conducted by the author. In my personal experimentations over the years I have been fortunate enough to be given plenty of flex fuel and non-flex fuel press vehicles with which I could do similar tests. Added to that, I've been willing to use my own personal gasoline-powered vehicles as guinea pigs. Consequently, I'm always suspect of a report damning ethanol (or any other alt fuel) that doesn't include practical personal experience.

Writing The Ethanol Chronicles in the year you did, you of course didn't have the opportunity to evaluate the Pimentel-Patzek 2005 study against the numerous opposing studies and backlash that were to come in subsequent years. This includes challenging reports by domestic and foreign universities, USDA, Argonne National Laboratory, and the findings revealed in an hour-long televised debate that pitted Pimentel and Patzek against Michigan State University Professor Bruce Dale and the NREL's John Sheehan.

To say that Pimentel-Patzek has been soundly rebuked is an understatement. Unfortunately the weight of the oil industry's checkbook has been able to overcome any perfunctory media discussion of Pimentel-Patzek's (flawed) results.

Your concern that there were not enough E85 filling stations is still a valid concern. It would definitely be helpful to any motorists (with or without flex fuel vehicles) if E85 was as ubiquitous as E10. However, one of the best features of a flex fuel vehicle is that it doesn't require only one type of fuel. As compared to having a dedicated CNG vehicle that is dead-in-the-water if it can't get to the next CNG facility, a flex fuel or non-flex fuel vehicle (that uses high level ethanol-gasoline splash blends) can go right back to E10 or non-ethanol gasoline when needed. So there should never be any "range anxiety" issues.

Another point you mentioned in 2007, and couldn't have predicted the outcome was the elimination of the national at-the-pump subsidy for using E85. As you know, that subsidy was retired nearly two years ago. It was believed that the price of E85 would then go higher than E10. However, that hasn't happened, the price of E85 is still lower than E10, and often much, much lower than ethanol-free gasoline.

In response to the encouraging results that you shared with Henry Groppe, you quoted Mr. Groppe as saying "That’s not the point....Part of the reason oil has been our fuel of choice for so long is because it’s incredibly efficient and has a high energy content."

I'm afraid that Mr. Groppe's long association and probable financial entanglements with the petroleum industry has either clouded or obfuscated the real reason why petroleum oil fuels have been our primary engine fuels for so long: The petroleum industry bought that position through financial considerations and duplicitous, sometimes deadly, actions. For the sake of brevity I will not present what these duplicitous, sometimes deadly actions are, but I would be most happy to provide extensive details and references upon your request.

Moreover, the issue of gasoline's BTU rating being higher than ethanol is completely irrelevant to any comparison between gasoline and ethanol. If "higher energy content" had any relevancy when comparing fuels used in internal combustion engines then you would be able to use diesel fuel in a gasoline-powered vehicle and get better mileage. Engine-fuel optimization is the key, not BTU rating. In my opinion, a man in Mr. Groppe's distinguished position in the energy industry should have known this and not have made this comment.

Loren, ethanol can become a viable replacement for gasoline, or at the least a very significant part of the solution to ending our oil addiction, but only when the truth is allowed to be seen and heard.

Very truly yours,

Marc J. Rauch
Exec. Vice President/Co-Publisher


Hey California...Why Wait Until 2030?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

By Marc J. Rauch, Executive Vice President/Co-Publisher of THE AUTO CHANNEL.

AUTO CENTRAL - June 10, 2015: Later today, a meeting will be taking place in Sacramento (California's capital), to examine California Governor Jerry Brown's new energy and climate proposal calling for a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use by 2030.

The event will be broadcast LIVE over the Internet for those in the world who are not available to personally attend. It begins at 2:30PM PST and can be seen at

The invitation to attend or watch the live stream reads, "A panel of thought leaders in policy, academia and industry will convene in Sacramento to debate (and) examine whether California can balance climate and clean air goals while still meeting America's most populous state's significant energy requirements, transportation demands and economic prosperity."

If man-made climate change is occurring...If additional clean air measures are necessary...If California's economic prosperity is in jeopardy...then why wait until 2030? California, and America, and most of the world has the solution right now, today.

The solution doesn't require significant engine conversion; it doesn't require futuristic technology or not-yet-available innovation. It merely requires taking the blinders off, and the gags out of public officials' mouths to inform the public that they should use more ethanol in their gasoline-powered vehicles, and ethanol-based bio-diesel in their diesel-powered vehicles.

Government officials and business leaders simply have to tell the truth about ethanol. They have to stop the pernicious lies and gross exaggerations about the effects of ethanol on the vast majority of vehicles on the road. If public officials and business leaders don't know the truth then they should be allowed to hear it without interference from Big Oil's checkbook.

Virtually every single gasoline-powered vehicle manufactured since the mid-1990's can use high level blends of ethanol-gasoline fuel; blends that are much higher in ethanol than E10 or E15. The very vast majority of gasoline-powered vehicles on the road were manufactured after the mid-1990's.

If California thinks they have the power to make demands on automobile manufacturers, and they do think so, then California should mandate that all automobile manufacturers extend their warranties to include the use of higher level blend ethanol-gasoline fuels. If California can ram electric-powered vehicle mandates down the manufacturers' throats, then this should be a snap. Why would it be a snap? Because whereas building electric cars costs every manufacturer thousands of dollars in profit, ethanol acceptance would require little if any new capital outlay. Everybody would be happy, and healthy, and more prosperous.

The only people who would not be happy is OPEC and Big Oil, you know, the people who brought us poisonous tetraethyl-lead gasoline, gasoline with MTBE, oil spills, explosions, wars to defend their foreign oil fields, and hundreds of thousands of dead or wounded American service men and women. If California is planning on big changes anyway by 2030 — changes that will have profound financial effects on the oil industry — then why wait? Do we need more dead soldiers, sailors, and airmen? Does California need to be further hurt financially? If man-made global warming/cooling is really happening do we really need to wait until more damage is done?

All that has to happen is for Jerry Brown to call a press conference, step up to the microphone, scratch his head thoughtfully, give a little "aw shucks" grin, and announce: "You know folks, it turns out that ethanol really is safe to use in your cars and trucks. It turns out that we let the oil industry do what the tobacco industry did for so many years...lie. So please start using more ethanol in your gasoline vehicles immediately. Please start using more ethanol-based bio-diesel immediately. Thank you and have a nice day."

That's all that Jerry Brown has to do. It will help California, it will help America, and it will help the world.

Oh, and if Brown wanted to announce that he's cancelling the stupid high-speed train and shifting the money to build desalinization plants and pipelines to bring down water from Washington or Canada, this might be the perfect opportunity to finally do something for the people who have been so good to his family for so long.


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