Saturday, December 8, 2007

Running your car on renewable energy--now!

I have been reading with much interest David Blume's new book (more like a mini-encyclopedia on all aspects of ethanol) Alcohol Can Be A Gas: Fueling an Ethanol Revolution for the 21st Century (2007). Before reading the book, I did not have a very positive view of ethanol as a fuel. But I am now starting to change my mind after seeing how Blume disposes of several common myths about ethanol production and use.

Blume reports that most cars with fuel-injection (which is all modern gasoline cars) can run on 50% ethanol with no modifications. Included in his tests on page 330 is a 1998 Honda Civic. So I am giving this a try with my 1997 Honda Civic.

We have an E-85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline) pump just down the road from my house in Urbana where today I put in 1 gallon of E-85 and then filled up the rest of the tank with Illinois gasoline that has 10% ethanol as an anti-knock agent. That yields a total of 16% ethanol in the tank that holds 11.8 gallons of fuel. The idea is to work gradually up to 50% ethanol, adding an additional gallon of E-85 at each fill-up until reaching 50% ethanol by adding a bit over 6 gallons of E-85 and then filling the tank with regular Illinois E-10 unleaded gasoline.

The gradual increase of ethanol in the tank is recommended because ethanol will dissolve the accumulated crud left by gasoline in the fuel tank which can cause the fuel pump to fail. (p. 356). Gradually increasing the percentage of ethanol will cause a more gradual dissolving of the crud allowing it to pass through the fuel pump. Experience in Brazil has shown that the engines of cars running on 96% ethanol and 4% water last three times longer than comparable engines running on gasoline. The engine deposits left by gasoline are like fine sandpaper and increase engine wear. Alcohol does not leave these deposits.

If you want to try this with your fuel-injection gasoline car, you can see see if E-85 is available in your area by going here, selecting "E-85" under "find gas prices," and entering your zip code. But if your car is still under warranty, using E-85 might void the warranty.

The only potential problem using 50% ethanol might cause is minor hesitations at stop signs that should go away as the fuel-injection system adapts to the new fuel (p. 329).

It is stated on page 326 of Blume's book that if all of the U.S.'s fuel-injection cars (just about all of them since the late 1980s) ran on just 40% alcohol, we might not need to import any foreign oil (although I don't believe the U.S. produces near enough ethanol now to make that possible).