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As corn prices explode in the face of the worst drought in over a half century, ethanol, once...

As corn prices explode in the face of the worst drought in over a half century, ethanol, once touted as the homegrown, eco-friendly replacement for foreign oil, is fast becoming the new product everyone loves to hate. The fact is however, we've come to rely on the corn-based fuel's high octane level as a boost to the sub-grade gasoline currently being churned out of our nation's refineries. The crisis leaves us with two tough choices: higher gas prices, or higher food prices.
Comments (29)
  • Tack
    , contributor
    Comments (12867) | Send Message
    In the real world ethanol-enhanced gasoline is probably arriving into the tank of your vehicle at significantly less octane than advertised because ethanol is hydroscopic, and water contamination of gasoline reduces octane ratings by several percentage points.
    28 Jul 2012, 11:38 AM Reply Like
  • 867046
    , contributor
    Comments (398) | Send Message
    The irony in your remark is that "fuel system additives" containing ethanol are sold at auto parts stores to purge the fuel delivery system of water which can be corrosive. So some ethanol is good in order to keep free water chemically passivated.
    28 Jul 2012, 03:08 PM Reply Like
  • 1980XLS-2.0
    , contributor
    Comments (525) | Send Message


    While excess water in gasoline can cause issues, It does not Reduce octane, it actually raises it.


    Hence the old hot rodder trick of water injection.


    In the late 1980's GM even considered water injection for the high performance versions of Turbocharged Buick V-6's at the time.


    This would allow higher boost pressures without the need for higher octane fuel.


    But Gov't being the way it is, mandated all the plumbing and delivery systems to be designed as that of gasoline, (classifying water as fuel, despite it being non-flammable itself) thereby making it too costly to implement.


    As Far as ethanol.


    It was originally never mandated, but just one available solution to seasonal mandates of oxygenation of fuel in certain regions, in order reduce CO emissions during winter months.


    Oxygenation effectively leans mixtures.


    Ironically, Gov't is behind the tech curve again, as it mostly only works in carburetors, which happened to be getting phased out at the same time by automakers, on order to meet the myriad of ever increasing tailpipe emission standards being phased in over time.


    Closed loop Fuel injection simply adjusts air fuel ratio to programmed levels when in operation.


    Just one of the reasons fuel mileage is reduced with ethanol blended fuel, in addition to ethanol's lower energy content vs gasoline to begin with.


    Due to ethanol's issues regarding water and corrosion, Oil companies opted to most use MTBE as the solution to the mandates.


    With Groundwater contamination, from MBTE leading to it's ban, ethanol became the next available solution, for the oxygenation mandates, much to the objection of oil companies.


    Once the farm lobby got their way with ethanol, a new argument (energy independence) then took hold, pushed by the Farm Lobby.


    (I won't bother getting into the inefficiencies of making ethanol from corn vs sugar can) (CZZ)


    Such is why we see ethanol blended in gasoline 12 mos per year now.


    One positive by product, of ethanol, is it's relatively high octane, allows oil companies to avoid other additives that would otherwise be necessary, to boost octane via other methods.


    ( Lubrizol) (NEU)


    Lead being one of the most effective means, no longer available.


    First due to catalytic converter incompatibility, (mostly since 1975) then concerns of lead emissions itself.


    Lead also had the added benefit of valve lubrication and protection, which also had to be addressed upon it's banning.


    Jeremy Johnson's, claim that Octane in and of itself is no measure of gasoline's overall quality is correct.


    While most of his other assertions regarding octane requirements are true as well, he forgets to mention a key point.


    While it is true Knock sensors can prevent damage from detonation, from low octane on many engines, when such systems are triggered they reduce fuel mileage and performance considerably.


    All engines have a minimum design requirements and appetite for octane, which must be met to meet performance design parameters.
    29 Jul 2012, 07:10 AM Reply Like
  • bigbenorr
    , contributor
    Comments (736) | Send Message
    Class dismissed
    29 Jul 2012, 08:23 AM Reply Like
  • Jeremy Johnson, CFA
    , contributor
    Comments (778) | Send Message
    The main point I was trying to make is that the article heading is just a bit silly on its face. Octane is not a measure of fuel quality for a modern engine. Yes, you need a minimum level so the engine can operate according to its design parameters. If you have an engine designed around the use of 87 octane, using significantly less will cause trouble, if not actual damage then reduced performance. In Japan, some high performance cars have higher compression motors than in the US version of the same car because there is more certainty around the quality of gas (in this case "premium" gas) across each respective country -- although in recent years, I believe more harmonization has occurred due to engine technology. That just shows that engines are designed around fuel type availability.


    Regarding knock sensors specifically, I think perhaps in the early days there may have been more of an impact from their use, but the technology has increased to the point where dynamic changes can be made very quickly and in small gradations so that overall economy and even performance is not impacted to a great degree. Another factor is the design of the motor itself. Recent engine designs are much more knock resistant due to advanced fluid modeling techniques eliminating physical structures in the cylinder that tend to create detonation and can better control the chances of preignition.


    Still, for a commuter car, or even a sports car used as such, the opportunity to create knock will be very limited -- perhaps 1-3% of miles driven. So there isn't much opportunity for loss of performance or economy. That is ultimately why this headline about octane was just sensationalism. If you are are putting 87 octane gas in your car to begin with, small variations in octane are just not going to effect you at all. I would be far more worried about other aspects of gasoline quality than octane for normal, every day use.
    29 Jul 2012, 01:05 PM Reply Like
  • 1980XLS-2.0
    , contributor
    Comments (525) | Send Message
    Yes modern combustion chamber design has reduced engine octane requirements, else being equal.


    Other recent technologies like Direct injection (effectively reducing temperatures, have aided as well.)


    Along with other tricks, Like Mazda's new "Skyactive" system, using the acktinson cycle theory, have allowed compression ratios previously unheard of given the Octane level of available retail gasoline.
    30 Jul 2012, 06:30 PM Reply Like
  • GaltMachine
    , contributor
    Comments (1135) | Send Message
    "Dealing with the issue leaves us with two choices: higher gas prices, or higher food prices."


    That statement is a complete and utter lie.
    28 Jul 2012, 12:01 PM Reply Like
  • wyostocks
    , contributor
    Comments (7653) | Send Message
    Correct you are. If the ethanol mandate were eliminated and all subsidies eliminated, gas and food prices would both go GO DOWN!!!
    28 Jul 2012, 03:38 PM Reply Like
  • robgra
    , contributor
    Comments (355) | Send Message
    That's why E10 /E15 gasoline has a 90-day expiration date (though most people aren't aware of that). In humid climates it may "phase separate" and reduce the octane even sooner. People that don't run their tank down or drive infrequently likely are running on 83 octane instead of the 87 they put in.


    Another poor solution with unintended consequences rammed down our throats by the government eco-idiots.
    28 Jul 2012, 12:06 PM Reply Like
  • mjohn
    , contributor
    Comments (31) | Send Message
    robgra, I will note that the seperation problem can be overcome with easily found, cheap additives.


    A second problem that is swept under the rug is that of new two-cycle engines requiring higher octanes to meet warrantee and operation specs. That is, if you have always mixed the oil/gas at 87 octane, you will burn up most new two-cycle equipment like chainsaws or weed wackers. mjohn
    28 Jul 2012, 01:24 PM Reply Like
  • mattyw
    , contributor
    Comments (125) | Send Message
    It's not eco-idiots, it's farm lobby groups.
    28 Jul 2012, 02:46 PM Reply Like
  • wkl
    , contributor
    Comments (289) | Send Message
    One other component to the argument against ethanol that gets very little attention is it's depletion of another resource, water.
    28 Jul 2012, 12:07 PM Reply Like
  • Frankj78
    , contributor
    Comments (214) | Send Message
    The ethanol mandate is an example of a subsidy that must go away. 40% of the US corn crop goes into ethanol production. The gov't mandate is for 15.2 billion gallons of ethanol in 2012. This figure is not based on expected demand, it was set arbitrarily.
    28 Jul 2012, 12:09 PM Reply Like
  • Jamiecal2
    , contributor
    Comments (14) | Send Message
    28 Jul 2012, 02:11 PM Reply Like
  • Bear Bait
    , contributor
    Comments (665) | Send Message
    I don't think it was rammed down our throats by eco-idiots. I think it was rammed down our throats by someone wanting to make big piles of money. Archer Daniels Midland comes to mind.
    28 Jul 2012, 12:10 PM Reply Like
  • GaltMachine
    , contributor
    Comments (1135) | Send Message


    The only reason it was able to be put forward as a national security initiative was that it was originally intended to combat global warming. This fraud was cloaked in the guise of "saving the planet" which is why it was so easy to get through Congress. Who wants to vote against saving the planet?


    So we get another unintended negative consequence of following the fraudulent science of man-made global warming fraud. Fraud and lies beget more fraud and lies.
    28 Jul 2012, 12:15 PM Reply Like
  • 867046
    , contributor
    Comments (398) | Send Message


    Your argument is not based in fact. The reality is that the eco crowd has almost no political pull in congress but conversely the farm lobby is very strong. Since corn is primarily grown in the red states, ethanol production is really a red state agricultural subsidy and is seen as a jobs program in that the fermentation facilities also happen to be co-located in red states.


    The ultimate irony in the corn/ethanol debate points to the fact that farming in the US is probably the most "socialist" business activity in the US thanks to conservative republicans and democrats.


    As you can see below from the Billings Gazette, farmers in the reddest of states want an ever continuing federal handout:


    "July 23, 2012 5:45 am • By Tom Lutey


    With the largest drought in a half century chewing up farm acres, the call for federal assistance is growing.


    Montana farm groups are calling on Congress to renew emergency loss programs that expired last September. Forage losses to drought and fire, as well as lost crop revenue are hitting southern Montana farms and ranches hard.


    “A significant portion of Montana is in pretty rough shape, the south and southeast,” said Ryan McCormick, Montana Grain Growers vice president.


    Four disaster programs that expired last September should be revived to help drought-affected farms and ranches, McCormick said. For farmers, the big one is the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program. Also known as SURE, the program covers crop and livestock losses that crop insurance doesn’t cover. It was created in 2008 as part of the farm bill, but expired a year ahead of other farm bill provisions, which end in two months...."
    28 Jul 2012, 02:56 PM Reply Like
  • Bear Bait
    , contributor
    Comments (665) | Send Message
    867046, please reread my comment.
    28 Jul 2012, 10:38 PM Reply Like
  • phxcrane
    , contributor
    Comments (415) | Send Message
    It actually was a tie vote in the senate. Al Gore as v.p. cast the tie breaking vote to get it passed. So once again thank Al for not only inventing the internet LOL but for causing the ethanol mess. Like so many politicians. He is long gone before the bad consequences are realized.
    28 Jul 2012, 01:10 PM Reply Like
  • Frankj78
    , contributor
    Comments (214) | Send Message
    The "eco" crowd would find little to support in the ethanol-for-fuel scenario. Crop monoculture. Enhancement to fossil fuel use. Chemicals used in production of corn-- herbicides, insecticides. Genetically modified plants. Those involved in the production and refining would find plenty to like, especially the tax credits that were extended to ethanol plants. And the politicians from the corn belt probably like the campaign contributions from those involved in ethanol production. Closed loop.
    28 Jul 2012, 01:23 PM Reply Like
  • tripleblack
    , contributor
    Comments (13444) | Send Message
    The problems arise not because of ethanol, but because of the dumb method we are using to create it. First and foremost American ethanol hides behind high protective trade barriers. This leads back to the corn lobby, of course, and their political power...


    But the dumbest portion of the story has to do with using corn (or other food grains for that matter) to create ethanol. The most sensible solution is cellulosic ethanol. It isn't made from food, its made from any form of waste which has a cellular structure (yard waste, wood chips, sawgrass, the list is endless and the feedstock for the process need not have any role in our food chain at all).


    The Brazilians use sugar cane, quite successfully (and would not mind exporting it to us, for that matter).
    28 Jul 2012, 01:37 PM Reply Like
  • 867046
    , contributor
    Comments (398) | Send Message
    "The USDA also administers three re-export programs involving sugar. The USDA’s Sugar-Containing Products Re-Export Program is designed to put U.S. manufacturers of sugar-containing products on a level playing field in the world market. The Refined Sugar Re-Export Program is designed to facilitate the use of domestic refining capacity to export refined sugar into the world market. The Sugar for the Production of Polyhydric Alcohol Program is established to provide world priced sugar to U.S. manufacturers of polyhydric alcohols"


    Ironically, rare mention is made in congress of our sugar subsidy.
    28 Jul 2012, 03:14 PM Reply Like
  • Van Hyder
    , contributor
    Comments (164) | Send Message
    I heard the CEO for Celenese claim they have a process for converting N. Gas into ethanol, would help to draw down our huge supply of gas while using our current fueling infastructure.
    28 Jul 2012, 04:39 PM Reply Like
  • Jeremy Johnson, CFA
    , contributor
    Comments (778) | Send Message
    There is surely a way to do it. Natural gas is basically CH4 and ethanol is C2H6O. Doesn't mean it's economically viable though. You would likely need some decent amount of energy to drive the process, whatever that may be.


    When used with a car designed for it, ethanol is good motor fuel, in some applications, a fantastic motor fuel, so that element should not a be a concern. But tying transportation fuel to soil depletion seems like a bad idea.
    28 Jul 2012, 05:12 PM Reply Like
  • moreofthesame
    , contributor
    Comments (743) | Send Message
    How about reducing the large amounts of cornbased junkfoods that cost us billions in the disease industry.
    28 Jul 2012, 01:52 PM Reply Like
  • Jeremy Johnson, CFA
    , contributor
    Comments (778) | Send Message
    There is nothing sub-grade about gasoline because of its octane number. Gasoline has a natural level of octane and that number is increased by the use of various additives. There is no reason to have that number higher than the engine technology of the day can handle. Modern commuter car engines can easily handle gas with a lower octane rating because they have sophisticated computer controlled anti-knock technology and cylinder head designs that control pre-ignition. There is no advantage to octane other than to control pre-ignition, in fact most the additives used to control it have less energy density, so in a sense, higher octane fuel is "sub-grade", at least for everyday use.


    Granted, if you have a very high-performance car that relies on high compression you will benefit from high octane fuel. That is why we will always see multiple grades of fuel sold.


    But, you don't need that much ethanol to just boost octane. The current usage exceeds that by a margin. There are alternatives to ethanol in any case. The oil shale boom has increased the supply of naturally occurring C4s-C6s which can be used to enhance octane.
    28 Jul 2012, 02:36 PM Reply Like
  • davidbdc
    , contributor
    Comments (3143) | Send Message
    Just get rid of all the ethanol subsidies and let the market decide.


    As the cost goes up maybe the refiners will find other materials to use to create ethanol (assuming they decide to keep using it).


    If folks haven't yet realized that almost anything the government gets involved in eventually will end up screwed up, then they basically are living in la-la land.


    Our government is now one of the most corrupt in the world. And the more we can shrink it and its footprint the better our lives will end up being.
    28 Jul 2012, 02:49 PM Reply Like
  • Uncle Pie
    , contributor
    Comments (2739) | Send Message
    If Obama would approve the Keystone XL pipeline project, more oil from Canada and North Dakota could be transported economically to the refineries on the gulf coast. North America would be awash with petroleum: Canada would not have to woo the Chinese to buy its oil and the corn crop could be used for food, instead of fuel. Domestic ethanol would not exist without taxpayer subsidies. Let's get rid of it, use food for food and fuel for fuel!
    28 Jul 2012, 03:04 PM Reply Like
  • bigbenorr
    , contributor
    Comments (736) | Send Message
    Another reason Diesel fuel rocks!
    28 Jul 2012, 03:20 PM Reply Like
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