Curtis Turner for 2016 HOF

Curtis Turner for 2016 HOF

Friday, December 31, 2010

Ethanol Odds and Ends

I was going to write a piece about ethanol but The Daly Planet beat me to it.
So I’ll just add a few things I’ve found regarding ethanol.
E-15, unfortunately. is also part of a Federal law. The Renewable Fuels Mandate is mandating more alcohol mixed into gasoline, and sadly, it even destroys small engines too. NASCAR is having to buy the E15 that's part of this stupid law. So don’t think they’re doing this out of the goodness of their hearts or for their genuine concern for the environment. One thing that was mentioned to me was that it shouldn’t cause any problems with the fuel lines. If the lines are purged both before and after the race with gasoline like the Indy cars do, then it won’t be a problem. But once again, will NA$CAR and the team owners ensure that the purging is done? And even if the lines are purged, you still have all the ethanol that’s trapped in the sponge-like material inside the fuel cell. So the problem with the NA$CAR vehicles isn’t totally solved unless the fuel cells are broken apart, the inside materials removed, and then replaced by fresh material. Just think of how much cost that will add up to after a 36 race season. Not to mention how much gasoline will be used in the purging process. Not very “green” is it?

By the time the grain is planted, grown, harvested, and made into ethanol, that it takes about 1,600 gallons of water to make a gallon of alcohol. Not so good when you consider water run-off from fertilizers, some of which use petroleum by-products, and especially not so good if they’re doing this in an area where there’s a water shortage, like southern California for example.
E-85, ethanol, biobutenal, etc, contain alcohol which requires use of ColdFire or similar special agents to put out fires, since they burn much differently. I’ve seen footage of alcohol fueled cars on fire and outside of the waves of heat produced by the burning alcohol, the flame itself is not visible. Some of the drivers did the old “stop, drop, and roll” because they were on fire despite the flames not being visible. It took a fireman who was closer to the driver than the wrecked race vehicle to realize what was going on and he extinguished the flames on the driver. Are NA$CAR’s all volunteer firemen at each track going to be able to extinguish the ethanol flames or to recognize the fact that a vehicle or driver is burning? A dedicated traveling safety crew would like what the IndyCar Series uses. And since there don't seem to be any provisions right now for a fireman in each pit stall, what NA$CAR should do is take the former catchcan personnel and have them spray water or ColdFire on the the fuel inlet and overflow valves to reduce the odds of a fire on pit road after refueling takes place.  

Ethanol also is creating a lot of problems with outboard motors and well as two stroke engines, like dirt bikes, weedeaters, and other products. One thing that’s mentioned in the link is the problems that ethanol pose to aviation fuel and why it can’t be used. The problem being that of water, which I stated before. In aircraft, the water will freeze in the fuel lines causing the aircraft to run out of fuel and if the pilot isn’t good or lucky enough, the plane will crash. Ethanol also increases the risk of injury to the passengers in the event of a fire because they cannot readily see the flames and avoid them.

The late Don Hamm and myself were checking our gas mileage after the switch came to the current E-10 ethanol mix. I lost 4-6 mpg. That may not sound like a lot but when you’re driving 700 miles one way that 4-6 mpg can be the difference between me arriving safely at my dad’s home or running out of fuel on I-95 in the middle of the Okefenokee Swamp. If we’re forced to use E-15, we’ll lose about another 2-3 mpg. This means a loss of 6-9 mpg if and when E-15 becomes mandatory for passenger vehicles. So just how is that saving fuel and the environment when you’re having to burn up more of it? It’s not.
Then there’s a question nobody in the media seems to want to ask. Ethanol is being passed off as an American product. Is it really an American product made totally from American alcohol mixed with American petroleum, which would make it an American product, or is it American alcohol mixed with Saudi petroleum products, which would make it an American-Saudi product? In order for it to be a totally American product, the petroleum would have to come from Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Texas, or California. And having done some reading of the Wall Street Journal, I haven’t found where there’s been an increase in the production of American crude to be used to make this supposed American ethanol.
Here’s hoping everyone has a great 2011 and always keep our service members in your prayers because without them we wouldn’t have the freedoms that we do.


  1. Mike,
    exactly right I totally agree with all of this! Alcohol is full of water I like to think and it will eat fuel lines and parts I do know this and have seen it even with small engines even as small as Go Karts when I raced and built them!

    Big Murph.

  2. Thanks Big Murph.

    Although NA$CAR has mandated new fuel lines and seals which will supposedly handle ethanol, there's still the issue of the fuel cell itself. Will the sponge-like material inside the fuel cell be able to handle it or will it break apart and turn into some kind of sludge to get sucked into the rest of the fuel system and clog it up effectively shutting the engine down? Then there's the money matter. How much more money is this going to cost the teams versus using normal, unleaded racing fuel? How often will they be having to change out seals, gaskets, etc. in order to maintain fuel system integrity? Any time NA$CAR has implemented changes under BZF as its' leader, even those that were supposed to save the teams money, it's ended up costing the teams a fortune driving up the cost more and more making NA$CAR more like F1. As my friend Rex White, 1960 Grand National Champion, said, "It's not what the teams are doing that's driving up the cost of racing and killing the sport but what NA$CAR is doing". And as he's the expert, I'll defer to his judgment.

  3. Mike-

    A number of years ago Dave Blaney was a partner in buying our local dirt track here, Sharon Speedway in Harford, Ohio. I am sure you are aware of Dave's long dirt track history. Not just the well known stuff like a World of Outlaws championship, and winning the Chili Bowl, but he grew up at the track here at Sharon with his dad Lou's modified and with his own cars as soon as he could fit behind the wheel. A few years after he bought the track, he decided to try to give something back to the sprint car racing that he grew up with, and still races today when he gets the chance.

    He started an entirely new entry level sprint car class originally called "Green Flag Sprints" and later called "Limited Sprints". This was basically a budget class with a spec tire, a generously high minimum weight to eliminate the cost of lightweight parts, and small wings as an equalizer. But the point for this discussion is the engine choice for this spec motor class. He utilized an ethanol fueled sealed spec engine from Schwanke Racing. These engines ran on E98 ethanol racing fuel, E98 being 98% ethanalol and 2% gasoline as without some gasoline content ethanol is basically moonshine and cannot be sold in 100% form. My experience with these comes from my friend Jason Scoville who ran one of these cars out of my shop for 3 seasons. Jason did quite well in this class, winning several races each season. Having virtually no racing budget, he bought a used spec engine and ran it without any freshening or rebuild for 2 more seasons on ethanol with no problems. These cars used oem (gas) injectors and fuel system, with the exception of sprint car type (methanol) filter and supply lines and fuel cell. The water problems are overblown, he even stored the fuel over the winter in 5 gallon jugs to reuse in the spring as he could not afford to pour out $6/gallon fuel when that was enough for the first night next year. The only fuel specific problem was tiny bits of rubber from the fuel cell (keeping in mind this was a who-know-how-old used cell) getting past the filters into the injectors. I do understand that there is a lot of room for error in a class like that as opposed to professional racing, but it did work well for these sprint cars. The track did eventually switch the class over to traditional methanol, just because the track was tired of keeping special fuel on hand for one class, when everything else at the track runs methanol or racing gasoline. So the theory of running ethanol in a racing environment has been tried and tested and works just fine thanks.

    continued in next post

    Dave in Ohio

  4. continued from previous post:

    That said, the whole idea of burning up our food to make fuel is patently ridiculous. The average twit on the street thinks ethanol is "green" because they think we grow it in the fields. They have no idea of the resources used to produce a gallon of ethanol and bring it to market. Not just the water use that you mentioned, but the traditional fuel burned up in the farming, transportation, and refining (distilling?) of this ridiculous fuel. Despite the lack of water absorption problems we experienced, it is certainly a scientific fact that any ethanol or methanol mixed fuel will absorb water right out of the air and contaminate the fuel. And it is corrosive to traditional gasoline fuel systems to some extent, which should be minimal at a 15% concentration, but present none the less. At E15 levels I doubt you will see any teams flushing fuel systems with pure gasoline, keeping in mind E15 is not much different than the E10 that almost all of us are forced to use on a daily basis. I know that drag racers and indy car types flush their methanol systems with gasoline to avoid corrosion, but I think that is an entirely different situation than a carb with 85% gasoline in it already.

    The biggest thing the aforementioned twit on the street fails to see with ethanol is that we are burning up our food! How do these people not realize that for every gallon of "feel good" fuel they pump into their tank, everything they buy at the grocery store goes up? How can you wonder why hamburger is expensive when the cattle farmer is competing with $unoco to buy the corn he needs to feed his cattle? How can you wonder why tomatoes are expensive when ethanol sugar cane is competing for acreage with vegetable farms in south Florida? Has our economic education become that poor that we don't know the effects of supply and demand? (OK, that was a rhetorical question, I know the government does not want us to understand economics, easier to mislead and control us, but I digress).

    OK, short story very long. I don't disagree with the concept of ethanol as a racing fuel, it does work just fine. BUT it is not the best fuel for racing when you have perfectly good gasoline in use right now. And of course all the practical and political objections to ethanol in general noted above. I all comes down to money. American Ethanol was willing to throw a bunch of money at BZF. They figure the average uneducated redneck race fan (their opinion, not mine) will be perfectly happy to buy ethanol at the pump, "good enough for the 3, good enough for me", if their favorite race car driver is running it.

    On that subject (silly sponsorships) can you imagine how maddening the race broadcasts are going to be? "coming back from the service master clean caution the aamp energy drink car lead the field to the american ethanol green flag here at the lowes motor speedway". Corporate naming run amok. Do you realize that the broadcasters are going to have to say "American Ethanol Green Flag" every time they mention the green flag, just like they have to say "Service Master Clean Caution Flag"? What's next, the "U.S. Pork Producers Other White Meat White Flag", the "National Cattlemans Association Eat More Red Meat Red Flag", and the "National Funeral Directors Association Black Flag"? When is enough enough? I have previously mentioned that I watch my races on dvr, but now I am going to watch with the sound off as well.

    Keep up the good work.

    Dave in Ohio

  5. Great column Mikie!

  6. I'm a little outdated on drag racing, but there use to be an alcohol class in the AA Fuelers. They ran pure alcohol and were capable of producing pretty good speeds. That was back in the 1960's, so like I said, I'm a little outdated.

    I remember Ernie Irvan was involved with a sprint car type series that ran alcohol fueled cars. They ran at Motor Mile Speedway several years ago, which is my local short track. They put on a good race and I hate to say it but they made the regular stock-type cars look bad with the speeds they were able to achieve.

    So yes, alcohol has been used as a fuel for a while. Corrosion and water-absorption are the 2 factors that a lot of folks are concerned with when it comes to the ethanol that they intend to use. Granted, it's a given that the main reason it's being done is because of money going into the France family's bank account. NA$CAR has already stated that the teams will have to use special fuel lines and seals in order to run E-15. Nobody seems to have addressed the fuel cells so that is still unanswered. Old fuel cells would eventually break down no matter what fuel is used but as E-15 tends to be more corrosive than unleaded fuel, it would probably speed up the deterioration process. How long will the fuel cells last? Nobody really knows because I don't believe anyone has bothered testing it.

    Some figures I read on what it takes to produce ethanol is it takes 1.4 gallons of regular gasoline to produce 1 gallon of ethanol. That alone would tell me that ethanol is not economically worth it as it cost more to produce and uses more of the petroleum product it's supposed to replace. That would also mean an increase in usage of normal petroleum. So that's not really saving petroleum but causing more to be used which in turn causes more air pollution.

    As to the actual food issue, the corn used for ethanol is not the same type of corn eaten by human beings. However, land that was previously used to grow human corn is being used to produce corn for ethanol production thus driving up the cost of anything that uses corn that's consumed by humans and farm animals due to the lack of availability on the market. Anything involving bread, flour, beef, chicken, and pork have gotten higher in price because there is less corn available for human and animal consumption.

    Instead of using ethanol, I think more emphasis needs to be placed on the algae-derived petroleum products. It takes 1/7 the area to produce, can be done on land that is basically worthless, the fuel economy is as good as normal unleaded fuel, and the end by-product of the algae extraction product can be used as animal feed.

    I can just hear Jabber Jaws shilling for the American Ethanol Fueled Sunsweet Prune Juice Bovine Fecal Matter Add In Another 20 Sponsor Names 500 From The Daytona Palm Tree Hunter Speedway in Daytona Beach Brought To You By Johnny Walker Red "Soda", Official "Soda" of the Daytona Beach Palm Tree Hunter.

  7. Gasoline is for racing, alcohol is for drinking.

  8. I'll drink, I mean take the 5th Anonymous.

  9. What everyone forgets, and no one talks about, is that ethonal prodution is only economically viable because it is heavily subsidized by the government. So, it's basically our tax dollars that are paying for the produciton of ethonal that is then sold to us.

    How great is that? We pay for the production of something that we are then made to purchase - basically paying for it twice.

    I wonder if the new Congress will look at those subsidies. If they really want to start decreasing spending, there's a good place to start.

    As an aside - E85 currently costs more than E10 in the Chicago area.

  10. As usual you hit this one spot-on Mike.

  11. Thanks Wayne.

    From what I understand Glen, Ethanol is something that is going to be addressed by the new Congress and if what I've read is true, NA$CAR jumped on the ethanol bandwagon too late as the New Congress plans to take a good, hard look at the ethanol subsidies in order to end them. It'll be behind the New Congress looking at cutting off the funding for the President's Health Care Plan.

  12. Welcome to the effects of the corn lobby. Now I'm all for the farm family making enough to make farming a viable option, but this is simply big business subsidized by tax dollars in the name of greenwashed optics producing an inefficient and unnecessary product, driving up costs all over the supply chain and ultimately making the family farm an anecdote in the history texts. If Made in America ethanol was truly the desired outcome, the producers of this fuel would simply be planting all these fields not in corn, but in speargrass - which grows wild, required little or no fertilizer, is hearty and due to its cellulous makeup yields far superior outcomes with less input energy and resources. But this isn't about being economically efficient, it is about making sure corn continues to get maximum taxpayer money. There's no government subsidies for speargrass.....

  13. we could easily solve this ethanol issue if it could be purchased at walmart. cheap and foreign made. the good old american way.

  14. You mean switchgrass? The cellulosic ethanol method is the only way to effectively produce ethanol, save maybe fields of switchgrass, a native grass. Algae has a much higher energy content than corn, but sadly, does not have Archer Daniels lobbying for it. Justy another shameless money grab by the same clown that brought us The Chase, the "soda" incident, and the "official" everything of NA$CAR. France will ruin what has forbears created.

  15. The govt. should not subsidize ethanol or mandate its use. However you grossly overstate your mileage claims. The difference between mileage of E10 vs pure gasoline is negligible.

    If you want to do something useful. Write an article about banning commodity market speculation.

  16. The act in question that gives us the "renewable fuels mandate" is Public Law 110-140, the "Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007", passed by Pelosi and Reid. The forced ram-down of the legislation by Congress effectively blocked a veto since it would have been overridden anyway, and Pelosi and Reid drove to the White House to celebrate in a Toyota Prius.

    We must repeal Public Law 110-140.

    110-140: Repeal of Entire Act

  17. Anonymous 10:04, I've kept track of my gas mileage and have noticed the difference in mpg between regular unleaded and E-10. So there is a difference and it isn't negligible. I keep my tires properly inflated, change out my air filter every 25,000 miles instead of the 50,000 recommended by the manufacturer, and keep it properly tuned up and the oil changed. So I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on that.

    As I deal with racing, primarily NA$CAR, I'm not quite ready to delve into politics, national security, or the commodities market.