Relief for high gas prices?

My local paper ran a story this week about E85, which is a gasoline/ethanol blend that’s 85 percent ethanol.

The good news is, your vehicle may be E85 compatible without you knowing it.

E85 is difficult to find, and you don’t get as many miles per gallon with it, but when gas prices are over $2/gallon, the price undercuts gasoline enough that you get more miles per dollar with E85.

The fuel has its critics. No, you don’t get as many miles per gallon with it. No, it’s not as cheap to process as gasoline. But let’s think about a few things.

E85’s primary ingredient is corn. Corn happens to grow really well in the United States. Would you rather depend on American farmers or OPEC? I’d rather take my chances with American farmers. So it takes more energy to produce a gallon of E85 than it takes to produce a gallon of gasoline? Grow more corn!

Not all cars are E85-compatible. My Honda Civic is among them. While it’s theoretically possible to convert incompatible cars to run on E85, the EPA has made conversion illegal. I wonder how much OPEC and Big Oil had to pay to make that happen?

This is clearly a case of the government talking out of both sides of its mouth. Auto manufacturers get credits for making a certain percentage of its vehicles E85 compatible, but the end result of these incentives has been the production of ever-larger trucks. So if your name happens to be Ford or General Motors or Daimler Chrysler, you can use E85 as a loophole. If you’re a consumer looking to save a couple of bucks and/or support the farmer a few miles away and/or cut down on the amount of smog you produce during your commute to work, you can’t use it.

Another nice thing about E85 is that it does a nice job of cleaning out your fuel system. A clean fuel system is an efficient fuel system, so running your car on E85 whenever it’s convenient can improve your fuel economy when running on conventional gasolines as well.

Some people complain about the inefficiency and say it’s not that much cheaper. But cheaper is cheaper. If you have to fuel up four times a week and you save $2 each time you do it, at the end of the month you have $8. That’s more money than you save by using a credit card with gas-related incentives on it, and people don’t seem to object to using those.

I don’t know what it is about gasoline that clouds people’s thinking. I overheard a couple of coworkers talking this week about their vehicles and fuel economy. One is disappointed in his SUV’s fuel economy. It gets 20 miles to the gallon. So he wants to trade it in for a Suburban, because, in his words, “It only gets 4 miles to the gallon less.” Only four miles to the gallon? That’s 25 percent. When your fuel economy is that low, every mile to the gallon counts. That 25% decrease in fuel economy, at $2 per gallon, translates into $10 more per fillup. It’s worse at $3 per gallon, of course.

E85 isn’t the long-term solution (hydrogen is), but it looks like a reasonable way to take some of the bite from the current crisis.

2 thoughts on “Relief for high gas prices?

  • September 9, 2005 at 11:05 am
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    Well, in Australia farmers have just successfully lobbied against mandatory addition of ethanol to fuel. Why? Because it would artificially distort markets. It would raise the cost of grain, which would mean things which feed on grain – poultry, pigs, feedlot cattle, even people who eat bread – would cost more, and the price of meat and eggs and bread would skyrocket. I’m not saying voluntary ethanol in fuel (or even mandatory, come to that) is a bad thing, but it would come with a price.

  • September 9, 2005 at 11:22 am
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    "fuel up four times a week and you save $2 each time you do it, at the end of the month you have $8"

    Uhmm, Dave, I think maybe you need to eliminate either week or month – probably week – and replace one with the other.

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