Saturday, August 20, 2005

Ethanol - - A Gasoline replacement -- maybe.......

Chinese motorists lined up to buy gasoline
(Picture credit to Grouchy Old Cripple)

Everyone's up in arms about gas prices, and I'm not too happy about them either.

One of the best moves I ever made was a couple of years ago when I sold my 3/4 ton Ford van with the 460ci. motor in it. It was a great van, but it got 12mpg. Uphill, downhill, local, freeway, mountain passes, pulling a trailer, it got the same mileage. I think it held about fifty gallons of fuel. At three bucks a gallon that'd be one hundred and fifty bucks to fill it up. Whew!

Why don't we just change over to ethanol and get off of the oil thing entirely? You can make it by fermenting just about anything organic, and there you go......

Not so fast, Sparky!

After you do the fermentation part, you have to distill it to get the ethanol. That takes heat. Quite a bit of it, in fact. Where do the commercial distillation plants get that heat? They burn fossil fuels.


Not only that, using fossil fuels to do the distillation to produce the ethanol to be used as motor fuel is roughly five percent less efficient in terms of fossil fuel consumtion that it would have been to use the fossil fuel in the motor vehicle in the first place.

Strictly from an energy usage stand point, if you can do the distillation without using fossil fuels for the heat, it might be practical, but it brings with it a host of other problems.

Other problems?

Ethanol has a lot less energy in it per gallon than gasoline by roughly a third, so you need to burn a lot more of it per mile to travel at the same speed. You also need a much larger fuel tank to achieve the same range between fill-ups.

If you've filled up your car with some of that gasoline/ethanol mix, often called "Gasohol", and thought you didn't get as good of mileage, and you didn't have as much power as usual, you weren't imagining it.

Yes, some racing engines use alcohol, usually methanol, a "chemical cousin" for fuel, but to get the power, they dump A LOT of it through the engine. Depending on the rules, nitromethane also is included in the fuel, which makes a MAJOR difference. (It smells neat, too, but I digress!)

Ethanol doesn't ignite as easily as gasoline, so getting the car started can be a problem, particularly in colder climates. Ethanol also can attack rubber parts and hoses in the fuel system. The new vehicles have changed the rubber compounds to deal with this, but older vehicles may have a problem.

Any of the two-cycle engines that use a gas/oil mix may have separation problems, although the two cycle oil manufacturers are aware of the problem and some have made their oil more alcohol friendly.

When alcohols burn, they burn clean, but when mixed with gasoline, a new polutant is produced, formaldehyde. Not a good thing to be dumping out the tailpipes of America!

Any solutions?

First, we need to produce ethanol without burning any fossil fuels in the distillation process. But where to get the heat to do the distilling? How about nuclear power plants? They have a huge heat disposal problem, hence the large cooling towers, and usually placing them on a river for the water supply. Most of that surplus heat is wasted. Let's recover it and make alcohol with it.

Second, engines will have to be developed to run on straight ethanol if you want them to run clean. This will take a bit more than just changing the fuel injection flow rate. It pretty much needs to be an ethanol engine.

Third, an ethanol distribution network will have to be developed. When there's enough demand, the oil companies will start adding ethanol pumps at their current stations. Extra filtration and water separation will be needed, as alcohol draws water like a magnet.

Initially ethanol fueled cars will be typically short range commuter vehicles, due to the limited range caused by the larger volume of fuel per mile required, and limited tank space.

And gas prices?

As demand for gasoline decreases relative to supply, prices will come down. It still all boils down to supply and demand. Unless, of course, someone else starts consuming gas faster than we are able to reduce our useage.

As to the demand part, take another look at that picture at the top of the post of the cars lined up in China to buy gasoline. You think they're effecting the supply and demand?


At Saturday, August 20, 2005 11:07:00 AM, Blogger Jennifer AKA keewee said...

So why don't we all buy those 45mph motor scooters for around town use.
NO !!! Ok it was just a thought. Not too macho for the larger guys, for that matter any guy I know. Giggle, giggle

At Saturday, August 20, 2005 2:14:00 PM, Blogger H2SO4 said...

Nice post... Well written and well thought out..

At Sunday, August 21, 2005 8:15:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, the Brazilians have been producing ethanol cars for about 25 or 30 years now. They started by making the standard air-cooled VW Bug engine alcohol-friendly, then re-engineered other "world car" engines as the newer classes of these roller skates came on the world market. The held the price of ethanol down by government monopoly, but I wonder what it would cost in a free market like the US of A?

My guess is that ethanol couldn't be marketed as a pure fuel for less than $2.50, so there isn't much economy to it when you consider it's relative inefficency to gasoline.

Sorry, old bean, electric is the answer. Build those nuke power plants, and take the best design for batteries, and build a decent electric vehicle, not a hybrid, an all-electric vehicle.

I've recently read that rechargeable-battery tech advances will soon have a powerful rechargeable battery on the market that recharges in minutes, not hours.

Any service station could be converted to have some parking stalls where you could plug in for ten minutes or so and then go another silent, clean 200 miles. The roadside rest stops likewise. They could even market the electricity for big bux, and make a large profit on it.

Anything to keep Archer-Daniels-Midland from controlling the country's economy.

They've screwed up the Grain Belt something awful as a preview for us for the "ethanol rush".

At Sunday, August 21, 2005 4:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or you could just convert your existing car to electric.

See the National Electric Drag Racing Association's website... Check out the 100 MPH club... I particularly like the White Zombie...

At Sunday, August 21, 2005 10:55:00 PM, Blogger Mr. Completely said...

That electric drag site is really cool. I'll bet the smell of burning wiring just isn't a replacement for smell of alky and nitro burning tho.....

At Tuesday, August 23, 2005 5:37:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I Found has some good information about B100.


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