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Er, elephants!
What does this have to do with elephants?

Ever since I seriously contemplated the issue, and started writing about the irrelevance in the difference of energy content between gasoline and ethanol for internal combustion engines, I've had some very funny and spirited exchanges with individuals who are quick to defend petroleum-based engine fuels (gasoline and diesel fuel). Often, the exchanges are with persons claiming to be mechanical engineers or chemical engineers.

Early on, I would be challenged to prove the existence of any reliable sources supporting my supposition. As time went by, I would supplement my own deductions with references to previous statements and findings that confirmed my position. In some cases people were convinced and went on to argue about other things; in some instances the references I used were attacked. As I would add in more supportive sources of information the attacks would become more hostile.

After I wrote and published "The Irrelevance Of BTU Rating - Big Oil's Gimmick To Hoodwink The Public", which included references that date back to more than a hundred years ago, the attacks suggested that I was relying on people or information that is too old. I always found this comment to be ironic since the opinion that gasoline and diesel fuel will produce the highest miles per gallon - due to energy content - is based upon old information that was relevant to powering steam engines (not internal combustion engines).

My view is that the references I cited aren't too old, they simply prove that the irrelevance of energy content in internal combustion engines has been known for a very, very long time; that it didn't originate with me. The knowledge has simply been shunted aside by the overwhelming voice that the big wallet and political power of the petroleum oil industry can generate.

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In preparation for a new book that I've put together (a collection of my reports and essays on ethanol), I thought I would submit an addendum to "The Irrelevance Of BTU Rating - Big Oil's Gimmick To Hoodwink The Public" with the statements that I often use when discussing this issue face-to-face.

The issue comes down to this: If all internal combustion engines (ICE), regardless of how the fuel is ignited, and regardless of how the engine is tuned and adjusted, achieved peak efficiency (miles per gallon of fuel) when using the highest energy-content fuel, then it could be said that energy density of the fuel is significant and a primary factor. However, this is not the case. A spark-ignited internal combustion engine that is optimized (tuned/adjusted/outfitted with the appropriate fuel injector) to run on ethanol will achieve equal or better MPG than the same engine optimized to run on gasoline.

Furthermore, in the case of compression-ignited internal combustion engines (diesel engines), biodiesel that contains about 10% less energy content than petrol-diesel will deliver the same MPG without any adjustments to the engine.

Let's look at this a different way: Let's say that the development of internal combustion engines followed the original course set by Samuel Morey, Nicholas Otto, and Rudolph Diesel; and ICE machines continued to be powered by alcohol, alcohol/wood turpentine blends, or nut oils. Engine technology would have developed just as it has, except that the engines would have been designed and built to be ethanol-optimized (ethanol can be used to produce biodiesel fuel).

A hundred years goes by and someone says, "Hey guys, instead of using ethanol to power our vehicle engines, let's try this new concoction made from the same gooey stuff we use to make asphalt; lets give it a quirky name...we'll call it gazoline. And because the gazoline has a higher energy density than ethanol, we'll probably get much better MPG."

So they fill their fuel tanks with the gazoline and they do a road test with assorted vehicles to determine MPG. But when they return and calculate the miles traveled and the fuel used, they would find that their vehicles using gazoline got fewer miles per gallon than with ethanol. They scratch their heads and they consult a mechanical engineer and possibly a chemical engineer. The engineer(s) ponders the information. The results defy everything they were taught in school. He (or she) would be confused. He/she would say, "I don't get it, the gazoline has more energy content per gallon than ethanol; when I use the gazoline as fuel to heat water it boils the water faster than the same amount of ethanol. It must produce more miles per gallon, but it doesn't."

Eventually, the engineer(s) would make alterations to the vehicle engines to fit the characteristics of how gazoline is ignited and burned. At that point, the engineer(s) would say, "Wow, when it comes to internal combustion engines, energy content...that is, energy density...in other words, BTU rating...doesn't matter. What matters most is how the engine is optimized."

I'm not saying that gasoline and diesel fuel doesn't have a higher energy content; I'm not saying that the BTU measuring system is faulty; I'm saying that BTU rating (energy content) is irrelevant when it comes to internal combustion engines, and the oil industry's entire story of greater energy content is just a marketing scam to sell the poison they call gasoline and diesel fuel. It's said that elephants "never forget"... neither should the public. The oil industry is only interested in themselves...not the general public, not their specific customers, and not for any national ideals.

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1 hour ago, Marc J. Rauch said:

A spark-ignited internal combustion engine that is optimized (tuned/adjusted/outfitted with the appropriate fuel injector) to run on ethanol will achieve equal or better MPG than the same engine optimized to run on gasoline.

I had heard this was true, and I had heard that is why all of the racing engines are optimized to run on ethanol, but I really do not know enough about the numbers to make an informed decision on the matter.  However, even if ethanol is superior to gasoline in mpg, everything still comes down to economics: can oil be pulled from the ground for less cost than producing ethanol?  Also, don't think of this in terms of gallon of gas vs. gallon of ethanol, because mpg-efficiency does not matter nearly as much as mpg-cost.  Or in other words: let's say a gasoline-optimized engine consumes $2 of fuel for each 100 miles traveled, well, then what does an ethanol-optimized engine consume in costs for each 100 miles traveled?  Not only must the ethanol engine beat that $2 value in fuel costs, but one must also factor in the costs for changing the existing infrastructure over to ethanol optimized engines and fuel supply chains.  What this ultimately boils down to is efficiencies: which will contribute the most to the shareholder's bottom-line: gas or ethanol?  If gas does, then you won't be able to the secure funding necessary to make the switch to ethanol, even if ethanol provides superior performance.  

You can ask Elon about the importance of securing that funding.  

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1 hour ago, Epic said:

I had heard this was true, and I had heard that is why all of the racing engines are optimized to run on ethanol, but I really do not know enough about the numbers to make an informed decision on the matter.  However, even if ethanol is superior to gasoline in mpg, everything still comes down to economics: can oil be pulled from the ground for less cost than producing ethanol?  Also, don't think of this in terms of gallon of gas vs. gallon of ethanol, because mpg-efficiency does not matter nearly as much as mpg-cost.  Or in other words: let's say a gasoline-optimized engine consumes $2 of fuel for each 100 miles traveled, well, then what does an ethanol-optimized engine consume in costs for each 100 miles traveled?  Not only must the ethanol engine beat that $2 value in fuel costs, but one must also factor in the costs for changing the existing infrastructure over to ethanol optimized engines and fuel supply chains.  What this ultimately boils down to is efficiencies: which will contribute the most to the shareholder's bottom-line: gas or ethanol?  If gas does, then you won't be able to the secure funding necessary to make the switch to ethanol, even if ethanol provides superior performance.  

You can ask Elon about the importance of securing that funding.  

Some racing engines are optimized to run on ethanol because ethanol delivers more horse power. Obviously race cars and race boats are not specifically concerned with mileage. In a general passenger vehicle that's optimized to run on ethanol it would have more horse power and equal or better miles per gallon than a comparable car running on gasoline only.

In some oil producing regions, like Saudi Arabia, they can pull crude oil out of the ground for a very low cost, about a couple of dollars per barrel. If the mark-ups and processing costs to turn the crude into gasoline and bring it to a retail pump were relative to the initial cost, then ethanol would have a very hard time trying to compete. Not only would ethanol have a difficult time, domestic U.S. and North Sea oil producers wouldn't be able to compete. However, the Saudi dictators want and need prices above $60 per barrel in order to keep their exorbitant style of living and to keep their people under control. This is pretty much true for all of the Middle East producers as well as Venezuela and Nigeria. If the price per barrel drops below $40-$50 per barrel it's not cost efficient to convert tar sands or to do fracking. So the U.S. producers want the OPEC prices as high as possible. This means that no oil producers have any interest in keeping  prices low.

Naturally, this opens the door to ethanol and other alternative fuels, and when you combine the health and environmental benefits offered by some alternative fuels with the costs you can appreciate the great concern of the oil industry. It explains their frenzied attempts to lie and lie about ethanol.

In regard to your question about cost per miles. Let's say E0 (ethanol-free gasoline) cost $4 per gallon at the pump, and E85 cost $3 per gallon at the pump. And let's say you're driving a vehicle that is optimized to run on gasoline. The vehicle gets 20 miles per gallon of gasoline. As long as the use of the E85 doesn't cause the vehicle to lose 25% or more mileage per gallon you would have a net gain to using E85. If you have a flex-fuel vehicle (keep in mind that flex-fuel vehicles are NOT optimized to run on ethanol, they just have software that understands that a different fuel is being used), and you use E85, you may lose 8% to 15% in miles. Therefore, you would definitely have a net gain by using E85.

Regarding costs to change out pumps and tanks at filling stations: If you're installing a new station there is really no cost differential between putting in gasoline pumps or ethanol pumps. For existing stations to add an ethanol pump there is a cost. However, stations often undergo renovations and repairs, and so the changes could happen at that time. But let's say that the change comes at a time that is not during renovations and repairs - it's happening simply because an ethanol supplier was able to convince a station to add an ethanol pump. (By the way, this is what happens.) The station owner would make the deal as long as he doesn't have to pay for the installation of the new pump(s). And so the ethanol company, as part of their marketing budget to expand their reach, would pay for the construction and installation. As long as the cost of the installation doesn't significantly raise the price of the ethanol per gallon, it has no real effect on the consumer.

Incidentally, there's nothing greatly different about this compared to a service station/convenience store deciding to change from Coca-Cola brand products to Pepsi-Cola brand products, or to switch from selling Shell brand fuels to Exxon/Mobil brand fuels - equipment, signage, lighting all gets changed out.

Regarding investors: It would be helpful if the U.S. government, for example, dropped all the charades against ethanol use and admitted that every gasoline-powered vehicle on the road can safely use blends of E40 to E50 without any problem whatsoever. This would be the encouragement that investors need. If the government combined this admission of facts with a mandate that all gasoline be at least E27, like Brazil, the financing flood gates would burst open. This is why the oil industry is so intent on continuing to press the idea that there's a "blend wall" and on continuing to spread lies about ethanol, although they know the truth.

The big problem facing Elon Musk is that electric vehicles are not cost efficient to build and they will not have the desired change in environmental issues for far too many years. In addition, there's no way that he can overcome the traditional auto manufacturers once they really get to building and marketing electric vehicles. Tesla sports cars look great because they're based on the design of cars like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Jaguar, and Porsche. There's nothing unique about any Tesla car, and they won't drive better than the other cars. Also, as long as the traditional auto manufacturers continue to build and sell internal combustion vehicles, they have an entire business to support the folly of building electric cars. With Tesla, any wrong move or stupid public comment by Musk runs the risk of destroying the market valuation of his company.

 

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