Reader Question: Net Energy Loss?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply! 

Sal asks: Given the government’s push for ever-higher fuel efficiency from new cars, why does the government also push less-energy-dense fuels? I mean, of course, ethanol. Your thoughts always appreciated!

My reply. Indeed. It is a very interesting question.

Almost all the gas sold in the United States contains about 10 percent ethanol. Put another way, a gallon of this stuff is only 90 percent gas. The 10 percent that is ethanol contains less energy than the 90 percent that is gas and so the resultant mix contains less energy than a gallon of 100 percent gas.

This lower energy-content “gas” reduces fuel efficiency by about 2-3 percent, depending on the vehicle.

Put another way, Americans could enjoy a 2-3 percent increase in gas mileage if they were able to buy 100 percent gas – and that is a much more substantial (and cost-effective) way to improve gas mileage than via cylinder deactivation, ASS and direct injection.

So… why?

The answer is the political sway of the ethanol lobby – the huge agribusiness combines that have succeeded in rent-seeking into existence something called the Renewable Fuels Standard – which requires that “x” percent of all the fuel sold in the United States be “renewable,” which effectively means corn alcohol – ethanol.

Very few politicians dare to criticize the ethanol boondoggle because they need the support of the lobby – and the voters in “corn” states, especially Iowa.

It’s another example of what’s awry with America. One group using the power of the government to mulct another group.

As opposed to government preventing anyone from being mulcted for the benefit of someone else.

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. Sal, GovCo is nothing, if not completely contradictory in a multitude of it’s mandates. Their 2 consistencies are their greed for money they haven’t earned, and the power to abuse whomever they choose, with impunity.

  2. As with everything in this country….and I mean everything, corporations control every aspect. Any question you ask can be answered by one statement. “Follow the money”.

  3. Given the government’s push for ever-higher fuel efficiency from new cars,

    Why do auto manufacturers insist on equipping cars with bigger wheels and wider and lower profile tires which use more fuel?

    Why do newer cars need to have 0-60 times well below ten seconds ???

  4. The excuse to use ethanol is that it burns cleaner. It has a hydroxide (i.e. OH) molecule, whereas normal hydrocarbons do not. Because of the OH molecule, the ethanol already has oxygen to promote cleaner combustion.

    That said, ethanol can play HELL with older fuel systems! When I had my Kawasaki W650, one of my carbs clogged, thanks to ethanol. I had to run a whole bottle of Seafoam through it to clear the carb and get my second cylinder back.

    • Hey Mark,

      It’s like the ZEV (REV) con. When the entire production chain is factored in, it hasn’t been shown that E-gas has less environmental impact than pure gas (it may be worse). But, as Eric notes, it does keep a corrupt industry fat and happy.


      • Jeremy, you probably know every gallon of ethanol takes the equivalent amount of energy of a gallon of diesel. Well, it’s the usual screwing of corporate everything, this time, big Ag.

        A friend was lamenting how Roundup weeds weren’t being killed yesterday. I dind’t even reply except to tell him it looked like he’d have to go for something entirely worse. No reply. And then this afternoon, I did something I hated to do, sprayed Roundup. We’re so grownup with weeds and large amounts of rain we can’t even walk around the yard at work without being accosted by big rattlers. We’d be glad to pay illegals to swatch those weeds but they don’t want a job. So I’ll keep working to support them….involuntarily.


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