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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ethanol - Good or Bad?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Corn was thought to be the golden crop that would fuel the nation and help decrease the United States' dependence on foreign oil. However, there are those who believe the nation swapped one problem for another.

Ethanol is believed to be the source of many headaches for people with some automobile, boat and small engine problems.

Most gas stations now have gas mixed with about 10 percent ethanol or E10. However, there are various ways moisture can build up in the fuel since alcohol, which is a product of the ethanol making process, attracts water and can dilute gasoline. It is also possible for more than the legal limit of 10 percent ethanol to be put into the mix.

According to several Web sites, including www.fuel-testers.com, both drivers and mechanics have reported engine problems due to phase separation and water contamination of gasoline, the ability of the fuel to attract, absorb and hold moisture in the fuel tank, an increased occurrence of lean or water diluted fuel, vapor lock or fuel starvation, a drop in octane levels, decreased fuel efficiency and mpg, parts and engine wear and a decreased shelf life of gasoline.

When combined with ethanol, gas only stays stable for about three months. This time table means a person would have to drain the fuel from the gas tank before storing the vehicle, such as a boat or car, for a long period of time to ensure the vehicle will run smoothly later and rust doesn't occur inside the tank.

Problems associated with ethanol are damage to internal engine parts including metal, rubber and plastic parts. Metal can be corroded over time and flexible fuel lines can develop cracks and punctures. Mechanics have also reported carburetor damage and increased clogging.

In boats, ethanol can damage some fiberglass fuel tanks. Check the owner's manuel to see if ethanol is safe to run in the tank of a vehicle.

Some driving issues motorists have faced when using ethanol include lack of power or energy in the engine, hard starting and operating problems and slow acceleration and stalling, especially at low speeds.

Older vehicles, mostly those built before 1980 and classic cars, cannot run on E10, neither can expensive vehicles like BMWs or Porsches. It is recommended that these vehicles use a gasoline with at least an octane level of 91 or 93.

Newer vehicle engines, however, have been adapted by auto makers to be more suitable for E10. Most auto makers, now, say in their vehicles' manuels that E10 is safe to use.

Though there has been some harsh criticism on E10 fuel, there are some good things about it. Ethanol is a solvent and a cleanser for the engine. It will wash away any dirt and grime that has built up over the years. However, this fact can also be a bad thing. While E10 will clean the engine, the gunk has to go somewhere, so it ends up clogging filters and other parts of the engine.

Some recommendations on how to reduce engine problems when using E10 include testing the gas before pumping it into the vehicle. These testing kits can be bought online and can tell the consumer how much water has accumulated in the gasoline.

Drivers who are worried about what they are pumping into their vehicles can also use a higher octane fuel (above 90). Because ethanol can potentially have water contamination it can reduce the octane level by about three points.

Motorists can also avoid using fuel additives and fuel system treatments because many of these have alcohol in them that can attract even more moisture into the vehicle's engine.

Another recommendation is saving up money to invest in an E85 flex-fuel vehicle. These vehicles look exactly like their natural gas vehicle counterparts with a similar price tag, as well.

These vehicles have had their engines modified so alcohol will not easily corrode the engines' parts. Flex-fuel vehicles can use a mixture of 85 percent ethanol to 15 percent gas. They can also run on natural gas and E10 -- really, any mixture of ethanol and gas -- without harming the engine.

As for small engines, such as lawn mower engines, weed eaters, chainsaws, blower vacs and other small engine appliances, it's recommended to use natural gas rather than E10. However, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), the national trade association for the U.S. ethanol industry, says small engines can effectively use E10. "Tests completed on lawnmowers, chainsaws, weed trimmers and blower vacs with ethanol fuels showed no engine failures, no unscheduled maintenance and good performance. Small engine manufacturers have long permitted the use of ethanol fuels," according to the RFA.

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