The Case For and Against Ethanol

As gasoline prices continue to hold at a steady and, thankfully, low price across most of the United States, alternative fuels are still being developed at a rapid pace. One of those is ethanol or grain alcohol.

Just like “moonshine”, ethanol is mostly made from grains, usually corn. E85 ethanol is sold at many gasoline stations across the country already, and it’s a blend of 15% gasoline and 85% ethanol. 1 gallon of E85 contains approximately 80,000 BTUs of energy, as opposed to the 125,000 BTUs in a gallon of pure gasoline. What that means is that it takes just over 1 1/2 gallons of E85 to propel your automobile as far as 1 gallon of gas.

There is a debate raging about the pros and cons of ethanol right now and, since it’s definitely going to be used more and more in the future, today we’re going to look briefly at the case For ethanol and the case Against it. Enjoy.


The case FOR Ethanol

A number of excellent features that ethanol brings to the energy table are that it’s extremely clean-burning, is made from plants and, at least as far as the numbers say, should provide higher horsepower than gasoline. Ethanol has a higher octane rating than gasoline as well and it burns cooler.

It’s believed that vehicles running on E85 will potentially have better performance than strictly gasoline vehicles because of the higher octane, higher compression ratio and the resulting increase in thermodynamic efficiency.

Ethanol is also greenhouse gas “neutral” because, as an engine produces atmospheric CO2, it basically makes up for the CO2 that the corn captured when it was growing.


The case AGAINST Ethanol

One of the biggest arguments against ethanol is that it takes more energy to actually grow the corn needed to make it, and then distill it into alcohol, then you can actually get from the ethanol itself.

Another major detriment is that ethanol, like all alcohols, is corrosive. That means any parts that are going to be exposed to it in a car need to be corrosion resistant. That usually means stainless steel or special types of plastic, which are more expensive to manufacture.

Growing corn is actually a very intensive process. It requires a lot of water and, even worse, the use of pesticides and fertilizers that are water pollutants. Also, the use of heavy equipment is needed to harvest corn and then transport it to distillation factories, using energy and expelling greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Lastly, the fact is that there simply isn’t enough land in the United States to grow enough corn to replace gasoline completely, even if it was possible.

An acre of corn can only produce 300 gallons of ethanol, which is an absurdly small amount when you consider that 200 million gallons of petroleum products are used every year in the United States. In fact, over 70% of the farmland in the United States would be needed to grow enough corn to replace those petroleum products, nearly 950 million acres of farmland.

Using Hydrogen as a Fuel Alternative

As gas prices keep going ever higher many people have started looking for alternative ways to save money on fuel.  Driving less, electric cars, commuting and many other even more unconventional methods are being used. There are a lot of new fuels that are being developed and a few of them have even hit the market although they’re still rather scarce. One of the most interesting, and slightly controversial, is the use of Hydrogen. Yes, that hydrogen

Now we know what a lot of you, especially our more mature readers who may have heard about it in their history class, are probably thinking ‘Hey, isn’t that the same stuff that made that big airship crash and burn a few years back?’  Well, yes, hydrogen was the cause of the Hindenburg disaster but in reality it’s actually very safe and is used to fuel 2 different types of cars that are making their way onto the streets.

One is a specific type of fuel-cell vehicle and the other is an internal combustion engine, similar to the one in your car right now, that’s been made to use hydrogen instead of gasoline. Both are amazing, technology-wise, and will probably be used more and more as time goes by and gas prices go up. Both are in testing phases as we speak.

The fuel cell version uses hydrogen to generate electricity that is in turn used to power the car’s electric motors. This has the benefit of using not only the hydrogen but the electricity it produces to make the car run, and even better the only by-product is water vapor.  The combustion engine type uses hydrogen instead of gas just like a regular engine but, just like the fuel cell car, again the only by-product is water vapor and not harmful CO2.

Many of the world’s top car manufacturers are now testing hydrogen powered vehicles. Honda’s FCX Clarity is actually on the road and being leased in southern California while the more famous BMW Hydrogen 7 has been leased to a few people in Germany and the US. One of the interesting findings from testing these 2 vehicles is that they have been shown to actually clean the air around them when their engines are running!

The infrastructure for using hydrogen vehicles on a large scale is not in place yet but, as gas runs low and prices keep going ever higher, you can bet that the market for this abundant and clean energy source will be continue to grow.



Alternative Fuels That Can Save You Money And Are Good For The Planet

We all know that gas is going to get more and more expensive and, because of that, many people are looking for alternative ways to power their cars.  Two of those alternatives are ethanol and biodiesel. Both are made from natural products and are thus renewable and, in the case of biodiesel, are much cheaper than gasoline.

Let’s start with biodiesel.  This alternative to diesel fuel is made from a variety of natural sources including plant oils and animal oils. They have to go through some processing to be sure but oils like peanut and vegetable oil and even grease that’s left over from restaurants from their fryers are usable. The processing can even be done at home if you’re so inclined to do it although you’d need to be mechanically  inclined and not averse to smelling like French fries.

If you have access to large amounts of grease or cooking oil at little or no cost you can make your own biodiesel.  The kits to do the processing are already available on the market but it will take a lot of time and energy. The up-side is that these fuels are renewable since they’re plant based. The downside is that they don’t have as much energy as regular gas or diesel so you’ll get lower mileage and, if you don’t want to make it yourself, the infrastructure to get it isn’t very big…yet.

Ethanol, made from plants like corn or even wood pulp, is a bit more practical as a fuel alternative.  Ethanol is, at its most basic, just a mix of alcohol and a little bit of gasoline.  It is being offered at more and more service stations which makes it easier to find than biodiesel and there are a number of cars that can run on both regular gas and ethanol. It is also plant based and so renewable.

The downside to ethanol however is a bit worse than biodiesel. First, fewer cars can run on it.  2nd it takes a lot of energy to produce and to transport, especially since it has to be transported by truck as piping it leads to problems due to the fact that ethanol picks up impurities from pipelines. Lastly it has caused world food prices to increase as more and more farmers are selling their crops to make ethanol instead of as food.

As with most alternatives there are always good sides and bad sides.  Ethanol and biodiesel certainly have both but, in the long run, are probably better than gasoline.


Is High Octane Gasoline the Best Bet for your Car?

Today practically everyone is looking to save money at the pump and, as prices rise, more and more are questioning the need to use higher octane gasoline over ‘regular’ gas. With this in mind we will take a look at the facts about high octane gas and see if it’s really worth the premium price at the pump.

First you should note that there are very few cars on the road whose manufacturers recommend high octane gas. Not only that but, in almost all cases, using high octane gas will not increase performance or make your car go faster or run cleaner.  Our advice; pay attention to your owners-manual and if it doesn’t specifically say that you should use high octane go for regular and save yourself the money.

In fact, practically the only time that you should use high octane gas is if your car has a noticeable knocking or pinging even if you’re using the gas that the car manufacturer recommended.  In this case, which is a very small percentage of the time, switching to high octane might be necessary.

The simple, undeniable fact is that millions of people are paying for gasoline that really won’t improve anything about their car, wasting billions of dollars a year.  The average driver could literally save hundreds of dollars a year by using regular gas instead of high octane.

Knocking or pinging is caused by premature ignition in the fuel cylinders of your car, and the octane rating system was devised to measure how well a specific grade of gas could resist causing this. Typically a gas station will offer regular fuel, which is 87 octane, medium grade fuel at 89 octane and then premium or high octane fuel at 92 or above. As we stated earlier regular octane gas is the normally recommended type for almost all cars being made today.

The only cars on the road that will need high octane are those that have high compression engines. Some sports cars and high-end luxury cars have recommended octanes of mid-range or premium and its necessary to prevent knocking with these types, but that’s less than 10% of the cars on the road.

An easy way to tell if you’re using the right grade or octane is simply to listen to your car for knocking or pinging.  If you don’t hear it when you use regular you’re fine.  If you do, switch to mid-grade first and check again.  Only if you still have knocking should you switch to the highest, and most expensive, octane.

How to Drastically Reduce Fuel Costs

With gas prices being what they are and the economy in such a downturn one of the main things folks are seeking is ways in which to save on their fuel costs.  While there is not much anyone can do about the cost of gas there are a number of ways in which people can drastically reduce the amount of money they are paying for their fuel.  We will be discussing a number of them in this article.

This first one is pretty much a no-brainer but nonetheless has to be said.  You must be vigilant in the maintenance of your automobile.  We know that sounds like common sense, but unfortunately a good deal of people never do the simple things that will drastically improve the mileage their car is capable of achieving.  And two of them are drop dead easy to do.

First is to make sure your tires are properly inflated.  Studies have shown that over 60 percent of the cars on the road are riding on underinflated tires.  A simple tire gauge that you can purchase for under 10 dollars along with a bi-weekly check of your tires should take care of that.  One tip though; always check your tires when the car has stopped moving for at least three hours.  Otherwise you will end up with an inaccurate reading.

Next up is your oil changes.  Cars need to have their oil changed anywhere from every 3000 to 7500 miles, depending on your make and model.  A simple check of your Owner’s Manual will tell you the guidelines for your particular vehicle.  And in the event you don’t have the manual, no worry; the vehicle maker’s website will provide you with that information.

Other ways to conserve fuel involve your driving habits.  We know it’s not always possible but if you can keep sudden starts and stops to a minimum you will save gas.  And never rev up your engine; this is a real fuel eater.  When you’re on the freeway try avoid going over the posted speed limit even though everyone else seems to be doing it. 

Also, plan your daily routine so that you will be able to do everything you need done in the shortest time and distance possible.  If you can connect the driving dots so you are getting from here to there and back in a smooth sequence, you will find that you are saving a whole lot of money on gas.  Follow the tips listed in this article and you will be amazed at how much less you are spending on fuel.

How the New Fuel Economy Standards Could Kill The Economy

I’ll be upfront with this, I don’t believe that the White House’s soon to be proposed higher fuel economy standards are going to kill the economy. I just don’t think it’s realistic. In fact, I tend to be on the other side of the argument and believe the new standards would create jobs, largely due to more people around the world 1) owning cars and 2) wanting more fuel efficient vehicles.

Just think, if America led the way in fuel efficient vehicle production, how in the world could that be a job killer?

In an article entitled “Obama’s Fuel Economy Standards Threaten the Economy,” Peter Roff of U.S. News states the proposed fuel economy standards would kill jobs and hurt the economy:

Thanks to Obama, the U.S. government now has three agencies–the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the California Air Resources Board–involved in the effort to improve through mandates the fuel economy of U.S. passenger vehicles.

Before 2009, when the current administration added EPA and CARB to the mix, the issue was more or less the sole province of NHTSA.

Why the change? Under the old rules Congress required NHTSA to consider what an increase in the Corporate Average Fuel Economy or CAFE standard would do to jobs and to the affordability and safety of vehicles in the U.S. passenger fleet. EPA and CARB are bound by no such rules; indeed CARB, as a state agency, is largely outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress–which is probably why EPA and CARB are the ones drafting the next round of fuel economy regulations.

Federal regulators at the EPA, working with their counterparts in Sacramento at CARB, are trying to get around Congress in an effort to mandate that the CAFE standard be bumped all the way up to 56 miles per gallon for model years 2017 to 2025, a move that is certain to batter the already teetering U.S. auto industry even further while making cars less safe and more expensive.

(If you’ll look at Roff’s bio, you’ll see he’s a contributor to Fox News, which may explain his slant on things.)

I don’t think Obama included the EPA and the CARB as a means of thwarting the EPA’s authority regarding fuel economy. If you look at Obama as a person, he’s much more of a collaborator, so it makes sense that he would bring these three like-minded agencies together in order to solve this problem.

Also, I would like proof that raising fuel economy standards over the next 15 years is going to “batter the already teetering U.S. auto industry.” As I stated before, I tend to think the improved fuel economy standards would do the opposite. Then again, what do I know, I’m just a blogger.

What do you think? Would the new fuel economy standards kill the economy and auto industry? Leave your thoughts below and, as always, please share this post using the social bookmarking buttons below – especially Facebook and Twitter!

Will President Obama Get Alternative Energy on Track?

As part of Barack Obama’s message during his Presidential campaign, he promised to help modernize and green America’s energy and transportation systems.  (Click here and here to see what Obama promised on the trail.)

Now, after the election, President-elect Obama is pushing alternative energy as part of his expected to be many hundreds of billions of dollars stimulus package.  According to the Obama camp, not only will the push towards alternative energy and more fuel efficient vehicles help protect America from unstable oil producing countries, but it will also help to create and save millions of non-exportable jobs within our borders.

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Buying More Fuel Thanks to Lower Prices? Probably Not

Remember last spring and summer, when the price of gasoline seemed to hit a new record high with each passing day?  We were worried gas was soon going to become too expensive for us to commute to and from work, and we would have to choose between filling up our tanks or filling up our stomachs.

In an effort to help keep our budgets balanced, many of us cut back on our discretionary driving, only filled up our tanks half way, used public transportation more, and even gave up our our cars and trucks for bicycles and walking shoes.

Seems so long ago now, doesn’t it?

Since hitting a record high of $4.12 per gallon back in mid-July, the price of gasoline has fallen nearly 60%, and now stands at $1.68 per gallon.  The last time the price of gasoline was this low was back in April 2004.

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Give Me Alternative Energy, Just Don’t Make Me Pay For It!

It’s becoming more and more apparent that we need to find viable alternative energy sources.  Whether it’s for economic reasons – not having to send hundreds of billions of dollars to unstable countries – or environmental reasons – not dumping billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – the time has come to kick our oil addiction and move towards clean, renewable alternative energies.

But, how are we going to pay for this research and transition, and who’s going to foot the bill?

One of the most commonly kicked around ideas is to raise the federal fuel tax from 18.4 cents to something a little more substantial.  After all, this would be an easy way to help wean people off gasoline and at the same time help fund billions of dollars for alternative fuel research.

(Click here to read about my plan to raise the fuel tax to 50 cents.)

Unfortunately, I wouldn’t count on this rational idea coming to fruition any time soon, because whenever the phrase “tax increase” is uttered, people tend to lose their minds and politicians tend to lose their jobs.

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Just So You Know, We Are Running Out of Time

Here we go again.

Thanks to uncertainty regarding the proposed U.S. Government bailout of the financial sector (which, by the way, is looking more like a band-aid on a bullet wound), the dollar having its single worst day against the euro and other currencies, and commodity traders covering their short sales, the price of crude oil climbed over $16 per barrel today – the single largest daily price increase on record.

And it could have been worse.  At today’s peak, the price of oil was up over $25 from Friday’s closing price.

While this may end up being a one day phenomenon, the fact remains oil is still very much in a bull market, and what we thought was the commodity bubble popping might have been nothing more than slight correction during an extended upward trend.

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