Another week, another fuel article. We could be criticised for going into so much depth about one topic if it weren’t for the increasing public demand for alternatives to the petrol status quo. This week we turned our attention to ethanol. Whilst ethanol is an alternative to regular petrol, it does not fit into a like for like comparison like LPG or diesel do. This is because the fuel can be blended with other fuels (most notably petrol) to work with multiple engine types. The most prominent blends at the moment are E85 (85% ethanol) E10 (10% ethanol) and E5 (5% ethanol).
Obviously this depends on the type of blend and the type of vehicle. The quick answer for both E5 and E10 can be found at the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries website. Their list is comprehensive, however you should always refer to your vehicle user manual before taking the plunge. For the higher ethanol levels the vehicle will need to have been specifically designed to accommodate ethanol fuels. These vehicles are frequently known as flex-fuel vehicles.
Reduction in greenhouse gasses – Obviously this depends on the blend and how the vehicle responds to the fuel. Debate does exist around this issue, however it does appear that the big players are standing by the claim while at the same time distancing themselves from the more lucrative discussions around cost.
Enhanced performance – Due to the higher octane level in higher blends like E85, the performance of a vehicle can see an improvement.
Higher costs – When all modifications and fuel efficiency figures are taken into account, the end result for the consumer appears to be higher costs. This is especially true for the high ethanol E85 blend.
Availability – Because most, if not all, ethanol ready engines can take petrol, the lack of service stations offering the fuel is not a major problem for the consumer. It is however a big problem for ethanol manufacturers as consumers can give up on looking for the fuel and slip back to petrol without any real consequence.
As blunt as it may sound, it has to be said that ethanol is not going to solve our fuel problems. The benefits are marginal and in some cases non-existent. Sadly it does not deliver even one market shaking consumer benefit which would see demand increase exponentially. Equally on the environmental side it lacks punch with everyone involved in the debate, delivering different results and different conclusions. Without a major shift in either production methods or cost efficiency this particular alternative will remain as an “also ran” fuel type.