New Fuel Economy Standards May Benefit Ethanol

Today the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) signed a joint final rule that establishes greenhouse gas emission standards and corporate fuel economy standards for light duty vehicles for model years 2012-2016. This National Fuel Efficiency Policy requires passenger cars and light trucks to get an overall average of 35.5 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2016 while cars are expected to average 39 mpg and trucks will be required to get 30 mpg. According to the current administration, this measure is expected to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the life of the program.

However, we could actually reduce oil imports and emissions even more under this program by using ethanol.

Ricardo’s EBDI engine technology

Let me explain. The easiest way to gain the improved fuel economy is through “engine downsizing,” in other words, using smaller engines. But the new smaller engine technologies will not mean less power, like in the past. According to Ethanol Boosting Systems, their technology enables gasoline engines to “reach their full potential” by utilizing performance enhancing properties of ethanol in conjunction with advances in direct injection (DI) and turbocharging.

Here is how their system works: The EBS approach uses controlled direct ethanol injection to add a very significant vaporization-enhanced On-Demand Octane BoostTM that essentially removes the knock limit on engine performance. The elimination of the knock constraint has been proven by systematic engine dynamometer tests. This allows a small gasoline engine to provide the same or higher torque as compared to a conventional engine of much larger size.

This downsizing, the company explains, when combined with the use of a high compression ratio enables gas engines to improve efficiency, aka fuel economy, by 25-30 percent. The ethanol blend deriving the best results is E85 and in conjunction with a 3-way catalytic converter for emission control, you achieve both goals: decreased emissions and increased fuel economy. In other words, octane matters and the highest octane level you can purchase today, is E85.

Several auto companies are already heading in this direction. Ford has released several cars with its “Ecoboost Engines” and plans on adding more models to the line-up. Volkswagon and Mazda and Saab are already on their way and Ricardo, Inc., best known for their engine work in motorsports, is working on their version of this technology called the Ethanol Boosted Direct Injection (EBDI).

In a company statement, Ricardo President Dean Harlow said, “The EBDI engine project is a great example because it turns the gasoline-ethanol equation upside down. It has the performance of a diesel at the cost of a gasoline engine, and runs on ethanol, gasoline or a blend of both.”

The ultimate key to this technology is that the engines must be tuned to run most efficiently on ethanol, not gasoline as they currently are. To make this a reality, several things must happen in tandem.

  1. 1. Auto manufacturers must produce cars using this “flex-fuel” technology that capitalizes on the higher blends of ethanol. This will take additional investment and research dollars but the results will pay off. This process can also be accelerated by passing a national mandate that all cars sold in the U.S. must be flex-fuel vehicles.
  2. 2. The EPA needs to approve the E15 Waiver, allowing consumers with conventional vehicles the opportunity to use up to 15 percent ethanol in their fuel blend. At the same time, consumers need to voice their support of biofuels by purchasing them at the pump.
  3. 3. More funds need to be allocated to building the infrastructure for higher blends in the form of blender pumps and E85 pumps.
  4. 4. The government must not deviate from its path as set out in the Renewable Fuels Standard which is leading the way to ending our dependence on foreign oil through the use of domestically produced renewable fuels.

When consumers, retailers, auto manufacturers, and the government begin to work together, our country will achieve its goals of energy and financial security and environmental sustainability.

19 thoughts on “New Fuel Economy Standards May Benefit Ethanol

  1. If we are serious about reducing GHG emissions AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE rapid adoption of the Ethanol boosted direct injection engine is imperative. While the electric cars hold great promise they are expensive and it will take about 20 to 30 years before there are enough of them on the road to achieve a significant reduction in GHG emissions ..and at considerable cost.

    Ethanol Boosting Systems engine (which Ford has invested in) only costs about $1,000 extra to build compared to the marginal cost of $3,000 to $4,000 for a conventional hybrid (which achieves siimilar mpg gains) and the pure electrics will cost about $10,000 to $20,000 extra to build. (some like to think the Nissan Leaf will be cheaper but when you add the lease payments on the battery to the payments for the care it’s about the same as buying a $40,000 Volt). This means the EDI engine will be adopted much more quickly. The speed of adoption is critical.

    What most environmental activists do not seem to realize is that because Global Warming is accelerating we cannot wait 20 years to achieve perhaps 20% to 30% reductions in GHG emissions that electrics, hopefully, will achieve. If we haven’t done more in the near term to reduce GHG emissions it won’t matter if electrics reduce GHG emissions 20% to 30%. Global Warming will have accelerated so much by then that that reduction won’t be enough to make a difference.

    We will need electric cars but we also must use every other technology we have available to us (in particular ones that produce results in LESS THAN 20 years) if we are to have any chance of getting Global Warming under control.

  2. Anyone who has used E85 knows well the dramatic reduction in miles per gallon that results. Ethanol always reduces gas mileage and engine efficiency – so EPA rules mean LESS ethanol – not more. Don’t listen the Ethanol Hucksters- demand gas WITHOUT ethanol blends

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  4. Allison, you are missing a very important point about octane and the collaborative design of fuels and engines that use them. You might expect engines built to work well with gasoline not to work as well with ethanol. Engines designed to take advantage of ethanol’s unique qualities, will take us just as far.

    For more detail in an article written for non-automotive professionals, see Bob Kozak’s piece about new engine designs: http://advancedbiofuelsusa.info/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/new-etahnol-engine-technologies-formatted.pdf It reiterates the observations made by Bill and provides more detail about the technical comments made by him.

    While you (any of you) are at it, look at Kozak’s article about the Deltawing proposed for IndyCars–not only to use home-grown fuel more efficiently, perhaps testing the types of engines described in this article, but also built with renewables. AND far less expensive than the system they are working with now. Henry Ford’s vision for ethanol-run cars for the masses run on home-grown bodywork will be achieved yet.

  5. Allison, you can get simmilar mileage with ethanol if you raise your compression ratio. Using ethanol is also less prone to cause engine knocking and can actually reduce wear on your engine compared to gasoline. Ethanol aslso ahs a higher octane rating, wich is why so many race cars are fuel with it and why NASCAR plans to require all stock cars to run on ethanol. Gasoline is a dirty, expensive, and overrated fuel.

  6. Allison Barber

    Ethanol reduces efficiency? That is the most ignorant statement today. Ethanol has nearly 40 percent less carbon per gallon. Every study or SAE paper I have seen, when optimizing for ethanol, Brake Thermal Efficiency increases by an average of 2 percent. Just remember that over 70 percent of your BTU’s in an internal combustion engine is lost to the radiator or tail pipe.

    Studies have shown that today’s FFV should only loss 20 to 24 percent mileage with over 30 percent less BTU / carbon in the tank. And if you want to optimize for ethanol blends, then a gallon of ethanol can go alot further.

    Remember that ethanol is gauged on carbon density to produce and energy balance to produce based on a unit of energy. So don’t apply a negative that you loss mileage since carbon and energy are not based on a gallon. :)

  7. In response to Allison Barber’s comments, I’d like to correct some misconceptions. Yes it’s true that high blends of ethanol reduce fuel economy. On federal emission tests that we have run using an optimized flex fuel conversion system, we see an average FE loss of 10 – 12%, not the 30% that we read about. The reason for this is that we optimize for the fuel and take advantage of the higher octane — The result is increased thermal efficiency which creates more power and improves engine efficiency.

    The issue is not really the loss of fuel economy compared to gasoline , but the cost differential between gas and E85. When the delta is 15% or greater, E85 becomes more economical than gasoline. Right now the average national price spread is 17%.

    The point here is that if the automakers start to make FFV’s so that the fuel management system is optimized for E85, fuel economy will increase.

  8. A couple more points need to be made:

    1. At the typical blend we now have of 6% to 10% Ethanol any mileage loss is imperceptible and there is vertually no loss of miles per gallon.

    2. I left out an important aspect of the Ethanol Direct Injection Engine as designed by the MIT professors. It uses approximately 5% ethanol and 95% gasoline. This means you gain 30% (35% with stop-start ignition technology used in conventional hybrids) with only 1/20th of the fuel used being ethanol. The reduction in GHGs is 23% (1/1.3). So you achieve 23% reduction in GHG emissions with one ethanol gallon and 19 gallons of gas. So your GHG emissions reduction for ethanol (used in the EDI engine) is 461% vs gasoline.

    3. The EDI engine is entirely scalable. It can be used in small cars all the way up to large trucks. Something that can’t be said for battery power technology. What does this mean? Again, more rapid and more extensive adoption of the technology.

    Now, consider this, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory has estimated we could meet 30% of our transportation fuel demands using cellulosic and starch based sources of ethanol.
    If all the cars and trucks were using EDI engines, 5% of that Ethanol supply would be used Directly injected into the engine to achieve the 30% (or more) gain in mpg. That leaves the rest of the ethanol (30% – 55 = 25% of the fuel supply) to displace gasoline by substitution (blended with gas). So the total reduction of gasoline consumption would be 30% + 25% or 55%. And this would be at a marginal cost of $1,000 per engine.

    What’s really important here also is that at one third the cost of a conventional hybrid and one twentieth the cost of a plug-in adoption of this technology would be far more rapid than that of electric cars. How much more rapid is a difficult thing to estimate but I believe given the cost and the fact that it can be adapted to all size vehicles the adoption rate could be four times faster than electric cars. And when it comes to Global Warming … if we want to stop it…TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE.

    The government needs to support rapid adoption of the EDI engine by dramatically increasing the number of E85 pumps available to drivers. We need to develop Electric powered cars. We will need the benefits they are projected to bring in the future. But without rapid adoption of the EDI engine I think our chances of getting Gobal Warming under control do NOT look good.

  9. A few facts might help the discussion:
    (1) The US consumes around 380 million gallons of gasoline each day. The annual production of ethanol (almost exclusively first generation production from corn) is about 27 million gallons per day or less than 10% of the current demand for fuel.

    (2) In current Flex Fuel vehicles there is a reduction in fuel economy (mpg), however the EDBI concept allows higher engine compression (turbocharging) coupled with evaporative cooling of the engine cylinders such that the engine runs much more efficiently, more than offsetting the lower energy content of the E85 fuel.

    (3) By some measures, the conversion of farmland from food production to fuel production has increased the price consumers pay in the grocery: everything from vegetables to eggs and milk.

    Now my thoughts…
    The speed at which we convert to alcohols as a primary motor fuel is governed by how quickly those second (and third) generation fuels become available. Their availability will be determined, in part, by the amount are you willing to pay for a gallon of fuel.

    There is no logical reason why our alternative to gasoline should be a single fuel (like ethanol). Blending of alcohols offers many benefits:
    (1) a high octane rating required for high compression engines
    (2) evaporative cooling of engine cylinders (albeit not quite as much)
    (3) a higher total energy content closer to that of gasoline
    (4) elimination of vapor lock and cold start problems
    (5) stopping/slowing the conversion of farmland used for fuel production
    (6) the ability to blend to different grades consistent with the engine and application.

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  11. Brazil has over 20 years of experience using hydrated ethanol (96/4) as fuel on ethanol only cars and for the last 5 years on FFV manufactured in Brazil. Why dont you ask us how we are doing things instead of trying to “reivent the wheel”? You could save a lot of time and test costs.
    Besides ethanol blowby gases dont combine with lubricating oil so you can increase considerably the oil change mileage (bad news for the oil industry).

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  16. Here is a test done by Edmunds: http://beta.edmunds.com/fuel-economy/e85-vs-gasoline-comparison-test.html?articleid=120863& in a close monitored run fron SanDiego to Vegas and back in a Chevy Tahoe. Using both e85 fuel and gasoline…E85 needed 50 gal and gasoline use was 36.5 gallons to complete the run…

    A 26.5% mileage difference

    The Final Score — Fuel Economy and Cost
    After refueling we put the fuel amounts and the prices paid into a spreadsheet and compiled a clear, side-by-side comparison for both fuel consumption and cost. Remember, these results apply only to this vehicle and to the prices in effect during our 667-mile test.
    Gas Result:From San Diego to Las Vegas and back, we used 36.5 gallons of regular gasoline and achieved an average fuel economy of 18.3 mpg.

    Gas Cost: We spent $124.66 for gasoline for the trip. The average pump price was $3.42 per gallon.

    E85 Result: From San Diego to Las Vegas and back we used 50 gallons of E85 and achieved an average fuel economy of 13.5 mpg.

    E85 Cost: We spent $154.29 on E85 for the trip. The average pump price was $3.09 per gallon

    Gas/E85 difference: The fuel economy of our Tahoe on E85, under these conditions, was 26.5 percent worse than it was when running on gas.

    A motorist, filling up and comparing the prices of regular gas and E85, might see the price advantage of E85 (in our case 33 cents or 9.7 percent less) as a bargain. However, since fuel economy is significantly reduced, the net effect is that a person choosing to run their flex-fuel vehicle on E85 on a trip like ours will spend 22.8 percent more to drive the same distance. For us, the E85 trip was about $30 more expensive — about 22.9 cents per mile on E85 versus 18.7 cents per mile with gasoline.

  17. Of course that was in a vehicle that is optimized to run on gasoline at about 9:1 compression. Try the same test with an engine optimized to run both ethanol and gasoline at 14:1 compression or better and see what happens to the milage difference.
    Also remeber that when you are running straight gasoline you get 36 Miles per Gallon of Gasoline.
    When you are running E-85 you are getting approximately 130 Miles per Gallon of Gasoline. It may cost a little more on an un-optimized vehicle, but you are using a whole lot less gasoline.

    The is a big difference between MPG (Mile per Gallon) and MPGG (Miles per Gallon of Gasoline).

  18. Allison, Im with you. i know for sure that my cars get alot better mpg and power with straight gas. And my older cars have troubles with their carburetors and fuel lines. Heck , the damage in the carbueretors actually makes the cars run richer…thats more pollution you fools.

    Peter-Your comment to Allison is that a raise in engine compression would make ethanol obtain mpg and power …what would you have her do? Redesign her own powertrain so she could get decent performance/mpg!!! your point proves ethanol is a pig in a poke.

    Steve V- Your comments are also proof of ethanols folly. Your mad at allison for ignorance. OK, your correct on the science of how ethanol yields more power with less BTU’s in tank. But your bait and switch game of ethanol making more power with less BTU in the tank is no comfort to real drives as they watch their gas needle go to E so fast. And is quite a stretch in the real world.

    Maybe the E direct inhjection technology will be the answer….at the taxpayers cost of course. And just how moronic is ethanol….It causes VOC pollution to manufacture, and it consumes diesel fuel to produce. With that, its not even strategically useful! But alas, it will never go away because its a political issue, so common sense is dispensed with. Its definately a pig in a poke.