A soon to be released Fuel Freedom Foundation study shows a tweak to an automobile’s engine software can improve the estimated fuel efficiency by as much as 20% when using gasoline with ethanol or methanol and setting the engine to run at an optimal setting for the higher octane in so-called alcohol fuels can cut the greenhouse gases emitted on average by 17 to 20%.

Needle In A Haystack Search. Click image for the largest view.

Needle In A Haystack Search. Click image for the largest view.

Lets run a little exercise, suppose you’re doing the proverbial needle in a haystack search.  You can choose to paw through the stack one stem at a time, use a magnet, or use a metal detector.  Which would you choose?  Now suppose there is a series of haystacks, one for each day out into the future.  You’re allowed one haystack per day and each day you find the needle you get $1,000.  It’s fair to expect you’re going to go high tech and high speed very quickly.

Both the ethanol and petroleum industries have “studied” the gasoline vs. ethanol conundrum.  And both are guilty of misleading results.  Most any competent scientist can quickly realize that the basic assumptions in the industrial studies are heavily biased.

But the guide for consumers is just like the needle search – better, faster and more productive.  That premise should be the same for policy makers, journalists, and blog writers.  And today its well nigh time as ethanol is almost universally available, used and still a topic of great debate.  After all there is a huge amount of money involved, about 10% of the wholesale gasoline market.

The Fuel Freedom Foundation is an independent non-profit based in Irvine, California, that operates without financial ties to the ethanol industry. The Foundation advocates for policies to build a distribution system for alternatives to gasoline in order to cut drivers’ costs and spur economic growth.

Eyal Aronoff, a founder of the non-profit group and co-author of the study to be released soon, said, “Alcohol fuels are not getting a fair treatment.” With the correct analysis, “the greenhouse-gas emissions look really, really appealing.”

The study isn’t publicly available yet, but the Environmental Protection Agency has seen an advanced copy.  The EPA said in its statement on questions about the study if a new, credible study contains relevant information, the agency will consider its findings.

Here’s where the technology comes in like the needle searchers would do.  The gasoline vs. ethanol debate hinges on the same kinds of problems, assumptions and manufacturing.  Today most of the manufacturing of ethanol mixed fuels is done by “splash” blending. a method that only approximates some kind of accuracy.  Some retail locations are upgrading to “at the pump blending” which should accurize the process somewhat.

The assumptions are where the big divergence is.  The U.S. Energy Information Administration is oft quoted saying the energy content in a gallon of pure ethanol is about 33% less than that in gasoline.  That is a misleading assumption.  A gallon of ethanol at 10% and gasoline at 90% would lose something like 3% of the “energy content”.

When the science is addressed directly even the oil industry is honest.  Patrick Kelly, senior policy adviser at the American Petroleum Institute said, “It’s true that you can offset the energy-content loss with a higher-compression engine, but it’s not because of anything unique to ethanol. It’s the octane that ethanol delivers.”

As directly honest as Kelly is, he leaves out what Jeremy Martin, an analyst on biofuels at the Union of Concerned Scientists said, “EPA’s conclusion was that there were opportunities for ethanol from an efficient facility to be a little bit cleaner than gasoline.”

Where does that leave us, the consumers?  The hard fact is most all gasoline engines made in the past two decades are ready for ethanol, methanol or other gasoline supplement products.  What the cars and trucks need is their computers updated to reflect the opportunity.  The only folks that are winning in part own the “flexfuel” equipped vehicles.

What should happen is vehicle owners ask for (create demand) software and where applicable firmware updates to their vehicles.  For that to happen the number of inquiries must increase in a huge way.  The auto manufacturers will respond, today the pressure is from the ethanol and alternative fuel opposition; tomorrow the pressure could come form millions of consumers.  Which group will the car companies listen to?  Ready or not it won’t be long until the aftermarket folks jump in anyway.

Then we can demand those higher compression engines for even more cost and performance advantage.


2 Comments so far

  1. Matt Musson on September 10, 2013 7:19 AM

    “If you are looking for a needle in a haystack you have to be scientific about it. Otherwise, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

    Henry Mulligan – The Mad Scientists Club

  2. jpstraley on September 11, 2013 9:43 AM

    When the carbon source is from plants you re going to plant fencepost to fencepost. Humans appropriate more than half the earth’s primary productivity (carbon fixing) now. Should we take another whack at it so that we can drive down to the mall? Though clever, this is not the answer.

    jp straley

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