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Ethanol in gasoline: What impact on cars, consumers?

By Andrew Adams | Posted - Mar 8th, 2013 @ 8:01am

SALT LAKE CITY — It was originally added to help the environment. Today, though, ethanol is one of the most controversial components of gasoline, and there have been numerous unintended consequences. Still, some see it as the future of fuel.

Suck ethanol-laden gas into your car and mechanics say you'll pay for it later.

"If it goes in and sits, then it rusts," said Greg Scott of GS Auto in Orem. He said he regularly sees the damage, especially in older model cars.

Fuel pumps used to come with lifetime guarantees. "Since everybody's putting ethanol in the fuel, they will only guarantee them one year," he said.

Utah Department of Agriculture spokesman Larry Lewis said, "I think ethanol plays a bigger role in our daily lives than most of us realize."

Ethanol is largely made from corn, which some say has driven up corn prices.

Shopper Brenda Bailey has felt sticker shock at the grocery store. It's the end of the line as the increased cost of corn gets pushed downstream.

What is Ethanol?
A clean burning, high octane, renewable fuel produced from abundant agricultural and cellulosic feed-stocks. Ethanol can be used as an effective octane-boosting fuel additive or as a stand-alone fuel. E10 is a blend of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline. It is approved for use by every major automaker in the world. E85 is a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, and is designed for use in Flex-Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) only.
  • Roughly 95 percent of U.S. ethanol is made from corn
  • Plants in 28 states produce more than 13 billion gallons of ethanol each year
  • In 2002, the industry produced 2.1 billion gallons
  • Roughly 10 percent of the U.S. gasoline supply is made up of ethanol

Dave Bailey, former CEO of Moroni Feed, said, "Eight years ago, we used to see corn prices in the $2.50 per bushel range."

He said now corn goes for as much as $8 a bushel. He said ethanol was the driver behind several smaller feed plants closing and poultry and beef producers taking heavy losses.

"What happens is you cannot immediately pass that cost of production on to the consumer because the market will only bear so much," he explained.

Still, advocates of ethanol dispute the extent of the impact.

Steve Vander Griend of Urban Air Initiative said, "In Iowa and Nebraska, the livestock industry has grown, as well as the ethanol industry."

Vander Griend also suggested the car troubles are more connected to age and a lack of maintenance.

"They're already dealing with older parts, so sooner or later they're going to have an issue," he said.

He recognized the challenges with the current fuel and he said his group is pushing for improved 10 percent ethanol gas. But the future? It may be E30.

"We can make our energy more efficient. We can make the cleanest emissions values," Vander Griend said.

And car performance? Maybe better than the olden days of leaded gas.

"There's nothing in the gasoline pool, and I'd say even lead, that could do what ethanol does in that first 20, 30 percent ethanol being added," he said.

One big question is seemingly where to get all the corn. Utah officials said as much as 40 percent of their corn crops go to ethanol right now.

"How much more of the corn crop would it take to reach 30 percent, and how much of an impact would that have on consumers and food?" Lewis said.

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