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Robert Rapier

Robert Rapier

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The Overlooked Downside Of Ethanol

Ethanol is known to damage small gasoline-powered engines, such as those in lawnmowers and leaf blowers. Consumer Reports explains:

A Department of Energy study found that E15 caused hotter operating temperatures, erratic running, and engine-part failure. But even gas with the usual 10 percent ethanol (E10) could help destroy small engines. ‘Ethanol has inherent properties that can cause corrosion of metal parts, including carburetors, degradation of plastic and rubber components, harder starting, and reduced engine life,’ says Marv Klowak, global vice president of research and development for Briggs & Stratton, the largest manufacturer of small engines. ‘The higher the ethanol content, the more acute the effects.’ Servicing dealers are reporting similar problems, even with E10, according to the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, the industry’s trade group.”

I have some firsthand experience with this. A few years ago, I lived in Hawaii. In my location, it was difficult to get ethanol-free gasoline. I bought a brand-new lawnmower when I moved to Hawaii, and within six months it stopped working. I opened up the carburetor and found that the float was stuck in place with what looked like varnish. I assumed it was probably residue from components that had been dissolved by ethanol.

About a year later, I was mowing, and I heard a loud explosion and a thud against my house. The lawnmower sputtered and died. At first, I didn’t know what had happened, but a closer examination showed that a hole larger than a quarter had been blown out of the lawnmower’s engine. This was a catastrophic failure of the metal in the engine block.

I suspected that ethanol was the culprit, although I couldn’t prove it. But it did make me think about the possible implications.

The ethanol industry is profitable because there is a mandate requiring the use of ethanol in the fuel supply. Although there is a natural market for ethanol as an octane enhancer for gasoline, it would certainly be lower than the levels that are presently mandated. This means that wealth is being transferred from across the U.S. into ethanol-producing states.

But who is responsible for the consequences when ethanol damages small engines? I can tell you that in my case, I had to buy a new lawnmower. I expect that is the situation in many cases where ethanol damages an engine. The ethanol industry profits, but they don’t bear all the costs. Related: Trade War Could Be ‘Pivotal’ For U.S. LNG

This isn’t a hypothetical. Ethanol is known to damage small engines, as well as some older automobile engines. So, now that the Trump Administration has announced plans to allow higher ethanol blends to be sold year-round, it is inevitable that more repair costs are going to pushed onto consumers. This is just another way of subsidizing the ethanol industry.

This week the oil industry threatened to sue the Trump Administration over the change, arguing that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under the Clean Air Act, does not have the authority to make this change. Rather, they argue, it requires an act of Congress. The American Petroleum Institute (API) also released a poll last week showing that the majority of voters are concerned about the proposed change, due to the potential impact on vehicles.

The ethanol industry will claim this is about choice. But that’s not true. The ethanol industry doesn’t want consumers to have an unhindered option to choose ethanol-free gasoline.  If they did, we wouldn’t have an ethanol mandate. So we end up with a fuel that is forced by government mandate into the fuel supply, and the negative costs get passed on to consumers.

By Robert Rapier

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  • GLR on November 05 2018 said:
    There's lots of such claims, I've yet to see it proven it's from the ethanol and not a component in the gasoline. BTEX in gasoline attacks rubber, but this is rarely mentioned. Why do you suppose that it?
  • Next to the Track on November 05 2018 said:
    Short Google Search revealed , that Briggs & Stratton have moaned
    since year 2010 about E-10 and E-15 .

    I don't get it , that these small engine manufacturers have not
    managed to assemble Ethanol-Ready engines in the past eight years .

    While automobile engines are working with this kind of fuel ,
    Briggs & Stratton are too shy to ask for subsidaries it seems .


    What an ecological feeling to sell , and people are willing to pay
    for a lawn cutter !
    People with a lawn usually have children , and it would give a good
    feeling , being able to use ethanol fuels !
  • Charlie Peters on November 05 2018 said:
    Ethanol Waiver for Clean Air & Clean Water
  • Lee James on November 05 2018 said:
    Ethanol, as a fuel, is not exactly rocket science. But why is it that your average gas burner (like me) have such a hard time getting a clear picture about the ubiquitous E10, as a fuel??

    Last summer I did an online search on what causes so many of the lawn mowers I know, so much grief. Beware letting them sit around for a season! My sources seemed unanimous in saying that ethanol is a big contributor to seizing up. The remedy seems to be adding additives to your tank. For sure, that's what all of the fuel-additive companies say.

    Can E10 just come out of the box bearing all the necessary additives for engine protection?
  • Rusty Hesson on November 06 2018 said:
    Let's learn some simple science. Ethanol has less B.T.Us. therefore it causes engine's to burn leaner. Thus causing engines to overheat.
  • Dennis on November 06 2018 said:
    Ethanol is a cleaning fuel. It is not the ethanol that causes the varnish problem it is the gas. If non ethanol fuel is all that's ever been used then a person goes to a ethanol gas blend that's when the problem starts. The ethanol will clean deposits out of tanks and lines. People want to blame fuel for issues to small engines and even car engines when it's actually because the motor has not had proper maintenance. The statement that E10 made the engine run hot could be true. The more ethanol content you want to run the more fuel needs to be introduced into the carb to keep temps right. For every 10 percent of ethanol blend you need roughly 5 percent more fuel going to the engine.

    This is just BIG OIL trying to convince us that Ethanol fuels are the devil.
  • CapitalistRoader on November 07 2018 said:
    Crappy Corn Gas causes the plastic carburetor float seat in my lawnmower to turn into oatmeal. Oatmeal float seats don't work at all. Thankfully there are an increasing number of gas stations near me that offer gas w/o ethanol, which I will use in my mower from now on.

    It's too bad the Crappy Corn Gas industry has so many politicians in their pockets. Crony capitalism at its worst.
  • Scott Downey on November 09 2018 said:
    Ethanol not only dissolves old gas deposits, if that is all it did to cause damage, then why do new engines have problems. It is not the original non ethanol gas causing the problem. Ethanol absorbs water right out of the air. The water and ethanol create an environment for ACETOBACTER to grow, and they make organic acids that eat metal, rust metal. ethanol is also a very good solvent and dissolves rubber parts. Ethanol is also 'drying' so oil films break down on metal parts and cause extra engine wear.

    Bio 'butanol ' however does not mix with water and does not cause engine problems and is made from the same things ethanol is made from. So if we could somehow make that instead, and we can, all these ethanol issues will be gone.
  • Jan van Eck on November 10 2018 said:
    For my two-cycle and small 4-cycle gas engines, I buy pure gasoline from the farm-supply store, it sets me back about $30/gal (US). OK, that is pricey, but then again replacing the carburetor on my portable roto-tiller cost me a hundred bucks. Since I use the roto-tiller very little, just to uproot weeds and invasive roots, I figure the cost for the ethanol-free gas is cheap.

    And be sure to drain the old gas out of the unit before putting it away!

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