Ethanol – corn alcohol – won’t take you as far as a gallon of gas.
But that doesn’t mean it is isn’t powerful stuff.
Politically powerful stuff.
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz is feeling the heat right now as the ethanol lobby pressures him to openly commit to expanded support for federal ethanol mandates – a kowtow every recent presidential candidate from both parties has done up to now.
Others have done so willingly, even slavishly – but Cruz is reluctant (and hedging) because he’s an instinctive free trader – and knows that what the lobby wants is anything but.
The ethanol lobby’s potency derives not only from the money it has and the campaign contributions it can make (or not) but also from the fact that – in a presidential election year – the Iowa Caucuses are critical.
And Iowa is a farm state.
Cruz has so far tried to avoid a direct confrontation with the Corn Kingpins – and we are not talking “family farms” here but rather, enormous agricultural combines that actually exploit the family farmer by applying artificial economic pressure (via government subsidies and mandates) to divert food crops to ethanol production. Corn that would otherwise be used to feed people – or animals that feed people – ends up being used to make ethanol, which is then mixed with gas in various concentrations.
Most of the unleaded gas available in the United States, for instance, is actually 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline.
This fuel is labeled “E10” gas.
Which would be ok … if that’s what the market wanted.
But it’s actually what the government (and corn lobby) want.
And now they want more.
Specifically, they want ethanol concentrations upped to 15 or even 25 percent (E15 and E25). And they want whomever is nominated and ultimately elected president to make it so.
Big money – and big pressure.
Cruz recently stated that “market access (for ethanol) is critical” and even gone so far as to argue that federal anti-trust laws be “vigorously enforced to ensure that the oil and gas industry cannot block access to the market for ethanol producers.”
But ethanol has never been blocked from entering the market. The problem is just the opposite. Ethanol producers want a “market” created for their product – enforced by government. They want to suppress the market’s verdict about ethanol, bypass the preferences expressed by Americans for gasoline rather than ethanol-adulterated “gas.”
They want ethanol forced down our throats – and into our tanks.
Ethanol sounds good – superficially – because it is “renewable” and produced here in America. But a gallon of ethanol-laced fuel contains less energy than a gallon of straight gasoline. Which means your car’s fuel economy goes down on ethanol and ethanol-blend fuels – by as much as 5-10 percent vs. straight gasoline, because the engine has to burn more ethanol fuel to get the equivalent energy out of the fuel.
So, Cruz’s statement (in a recent op-ed) that ethanol “could prove quite popular with American consumers” is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of ethanol as a fuel.
Similarly his statement regarding octane.
Ethanol can be used as an octane enhancer, but unless an engine was designed to operate on high octane fuel, using high octane fuel will usually result in reduced fuel economy.
Octane is just a measure of a fuel’s burn rate, not its quality. High-octane premium is just the ticket for high-compression/high-performance engines designed for such fuels. But most cars are designed to run on regular (lower octane) unleaded – and so ethanol’s octane enhancing properties are irrelevant to the people who don’t need premium fuel.
And ethanol in higher concentrations – such as E15 and E25 and E85 (15 percent, 25 percent and 85 percent ethanol, respectively) will cause physical damage to engines and fuel systems not specifically designed and built to handle high-alcohol-concentrations. Which happens to be the majority of new cars – as well as all of the cars not built before circa the mid-late 1990s.
Alcohol is by nature corrosive – and it attracts moisture.
If you read your vehicle’s owner’s manual you will find explicit warnings about using any gasoline with more than 10 percent ethanol (E10) unless the engine was specifically designed for it (i.e., “flex fuel” ready) and an advisory that any damage resulting from its use will not be covered by the vehicle’s warranty.
So, Cruz is misinformed, minimally, when he states that “the EPA – through regulations used in vehicle emissions tests – imposes a hard wall against mid-level ethanol blends such as E25, making it largely illegal to sell gasoline with higher blends of ethanol.”
The fact is that even E15 – 15 percent alcohol – would be disastrous for most vehicles currently in service. And not just for cars, either. Virtually all the lawn mower, chainsaw and recreational power equipment (e.g., boat) engines currently in service cannot handle ethanol concentrations higher than 10 percent.
Neither can the infrastructure.
Pipelines and tanker trucks and the in-ground tanks where fuel is stored generally can’t stand up to higher-than-10-percent ethanol fuels. The fuels would have to be transported and stored separately – which involves duplication of effort – which adds another layer of artificial (government-imposed) costs.
The only “hard wall” limiting ethanol concentrations in fuel is the limitation imposed by how much damage to our cars and wallets we’re willing to tolerate for the sake of the corn lobby.
Cruz would be taking a political risk to say so openly – especially ahead of the Iowa Caucuses. But – as Donald Trump has shown – the public is desperate for straight-talking leaders who will stand up for them rather than serve as water-carriers for the “interests” that seem to own the government and use it for their benefit.
Cruz has said he favors an “all of the above” policy when it comes to fuels – and that Washington “shouldn’t be “picking winners and losers.”