Ethanol in Your Gasoline–Here’s What You Should REALLY Know

Cherryl Anne Cruz
Gas station offering ethanol-blended gasoline

Ethanol is blended in all the gasolines in the country today. In fact, the Biofuels Act of 2006 requires all companies in the Philippines to mix in 10% of ethanol in all their gasoline.

Ethanol (or E10), which is made from sweet sorghum, corn, and cassava, also uses our abundant sugarcanes (primarily in Mindanao, Luzon, Negros and Panay) for its production. There are five reasons why they are included in our gasoline today: 1) they are “environment-friendly”; 2) they support sugar and other crop farmers in the country; 3) they help lessen our dependence on other countries for fuel; 4) they’re safe to use in cars; and 5) they’re cost-effective.

And while all these reasons look promising, one question remains: is there truth behind them?

1) They are environment-friendly

Ethanol, when combined with gasoline, is really better for the environment, since it produces lower CO2 emissions. What’s more, this combination allows for lesser volatile components when compared to gasoline, reducing carbon monoxide emissions.

Ethanol is also sustainable, which means it can be replaced–unlike fossil fuels.

2) They support our sugar (and other crop farmers) in the country

Cane sugar farmers in the Philippines

According to an article posted in the Department of Energy‘s site, there are around 12 accredited local ethanol producers in the country today. Their combined capacity should be around 350 million liters. However, “actual rates only fall at 50% of the industry requirement at 10 percent blend.”

3) They lessen our dependence on other countries for fuel

But does it? The truth is, it’s actually more expensive to produce here than to import it from the U.S.

The price of local ethanol that’s sold in the country falls at around P60-P62 per liter “or more than the pump price of the gasoline it’s supposed to be blended with.” On the other hand, ethanol from the U.S. is only priced at P23-P25 per liter.

According to the article posted by DOE, we are actually subsiding more U.S. farmers than our local ones.

4) They are safe to use for your car

Here’s something you should know: Ethanol mixed with gasoline is not as safe as you think. Here’s why:

  • It yields you lesser mileage compared to pure gasoline.

According to a New York Times article, ethanol produces about 30 percent less energy per gallon than gasoline, so mileage drops off significantly. You actually lose 2-3 miles per gallon (3.22-4.83 km per 3.79 liters) if you’re using E10 (10% ethanol, 90% gasoline), and around 7-8 miles per gallon if you’re using E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline).

  • It will make you consume fuel more.

Ethanol has a much lower energy content than your typical diesel and gasoline, so it gives less power. What this means is that the engine will be less capable of turning that fuel into kinetic energy, and will need more to compensate for the power shortage.

The good news is that E10–the one we have right now, only has around 3-percent energy reduction. You won’t find any significant change with this, but the difference becomes more noticeable as more ethanol is added in the mix.

  • It can cause rust to your car’s engine parts.

Ethanol attracts water and breaks down fast. And with water absorbing the fuel, the chances of rust forming in your car’s engine parts become all the more possible. Once rust happens, the flakes will clog up the fuel filter and can become much worse during hot weather.

  • It can cause “Phase Separation.”

Speaking of attracting water, it’s common for Ethanol to undergo Phase Separation. When water, such as humidity in the air, comes in contact with ethanol, it will absorb it quickly until it can get saturated and form two or three distinct layers.

Phase Separation containing Ethanol

Usually, there’s an upper layer of gasoline with a milky layer of Ethanol plus a mixture of some water and gasoline below it. There might also be a third layer of water found at the bottom.

Phase Separation is basically just “spoiled gas.” And once it occurs, then your car won’t start if you turn the engine on. If your engine is running and draws water from the gasoline, then chances of thermal shock or hydro-lock can occur. Also, it can possibly corrode your fuel pump and other components, since this mixture is circulated throughout the car’s fuel system and into the engine.

  • It breaks down easily.

Ethanol breaks down quickly–three weeks to be exact. And you’re really pushing it after a month. Once it breaks down, it forms clumps in the gasoline mixture and can clog the fuel line, carburetor, and filter.

  • It can be corrosive on some of your car’s components.

Also known as ethyl alcohol, ethanol can be corrosive on some plastics, metal parts, o-rings, or rubber parts in your car. This becomes even more pronounced the more you add ethanol in the gasoline.

It can also oxidize and damage fuel system parts that are made from brass, copper, and aluminum.

  • It can really be hard on old cars, small engines, two-stroke, or carbureted engines.

The good news is that most modern cars today are designed with ethanol-gas combination in mind.  The danger however, is if your car is old. In fact, all the possible dangers listed here get more pronounced if your car is old, or has a small engine, or with a two-stroke or carbureted engine.

Here’s a very good video that shows you how it damages small engine parts (which can also be applied to car parts in some cases):

5)  They are cost-effective

Not always. Yes, they can save you on gas expenses (especially those with higher concentrations), but  if you add it all up, you’re actually spending for regular pure gasoline–or probably more.  For instance, an E85 gasoline is priced at around P39 per liter, but since you lose around 30 percent fuel mileage, then it would be like you’re paying P50 per liter in gasoline.

Conclusion

Despite some of its inherent weaknesses, Ethanol still has its benefits. However, it raises one important point, which is DIVERSITY.

The Biofuels Act of 2006 requires all companies to add ethanol in their mix, but shouldn’t consumers be given the chance to choose pure gasoline for their cars, as well?

We live in a democratic country that encourages a robust, free market economy. And if that’s the case, then letting consumers choose which type of fuel they want to use for their vehicles all the more make sense. Otherwise, it’s just a monopoly, plain and simple.

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