Thursday, January 3, 2008

What is the Best Way to Power Our Cars? Part 1

I want to break down this topic and talk about the pros and cons to alternative fuels in cars.

First lets analyze E-85 biofuel.

What is it? E-85 is a mixture of 85% ethanol and the rest gasoline. E-85 ethanol is used in engines modified to accept higher concentrations of ethanol. The gasoline ensures that the engine starts in cold weather, because straight alcohol won't.

So whats the purpose? In an attempt to decrease our dependence on foreign oil, the government, oil companies and car companies are investing in biofuels because the ethanol in the fuel can be produced from corn (a renewable source). There are some claims that E-85 burns cleaner, however, this fact is under debate.

Is this the answer? While the idea is seems noble, it is very short sighted and is not the end solution to our problems.

Let me explain why:

In 2005, the republican controlled congress passed The Energy Policy Act of 2005. This was in the writers words, "an attempt to combat growing energy problems provide tax incentives and loan guarantees for energy production of various type." This bill had many shortcomings, one of which was that it required that any federal vehicle that could operate on alternative fuels be operated on these fuels exclusively.

What you may be wondering is: why weren't they running on these fuels before? Well a recent GM study found that roughly 70 percent of its flex-fuel vehicle owners didn't know they could use E85, and fewer than 10 percent did so. The government at this time was only operating their own flex-fuel vehicles 51% of the time (the majority).

Well now this is good, the feds are going to use E-85 more and our dependence on oil will drop. Not quite. What this bill did is double the governments needs for E-85, creating a storage, limiting public availability and increasing its price. Currently, there are only around 800 public E-85 stations in the US and 1 in Canada. Bummer.

So why are car companies building E-85 vehicles anyway? Because as an incentive to develop alternative fuel cars, fuel economies for E-85 cars are multiplied by a factor. For example, a 15 MPG duel-fuel E-85 capable vehicle is rated as a 40 MPG under U.S. standards.

So even when it is estimated <1%>used in E-85 capable vehicles is actually E-85. By producing E-85 cars car companies are able to inflate their average fuel economy for all their vehicles.


Check out a few of my sources if you would like to learn about E-85 in more depth.

Article by
Wikipedia E-85

to be continued...

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