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By Robert Rapier on Nov 9, 2007 with no responses

E85 Road Test

A couple of months back, I posted Gary Dikkers’ analysis comparing the fuel efficiency of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Gary’s conclusion was:

Both states have almost identical topography, climate, demographics, and about the same mix of urban/rural driving. (In fact, Wisconsin has a slightly higher ratio of urban to rural miles driven.) The two states are about as close to being twins as any two states could be. (Not counting the Vikings/Packers difference of course.) Yet fuel economy in Minnesota is worse, and their drivers buy and burn more fuel than their neighbors.

The only obvious difference that jumps out is that Minnesota has mandated its drivers burn a blend of ethanol and gasoline — a fuel with a known lower energy density than gasoline.

Along that same theme, a reporter in Minnesota has done a road test comparing the operating costs of E85 in Minnesota to regular gasoline in Wisconsin.

Ethanol Part II – Our E85 road test

Some excerpts:

In the effort to find clean alternative sources of energy, consumers have been led to believe they can “go green” by fueling up on corn. “Join the movement,” GM urges. “Go to livegreengoyellow.com.

The U.S. Senate apparently agrees. It voted to increase U.S. ethanol production to 36 billion gallons per year by 2022. The House did not pass the same increase, but the mandate could still make its way into the energy bill Congress gives to the President.

Maybe there’s good reason drivers aren’t demanding ethanol. Performance is an issue. Even with a 10-percent blend of ethanol, a car’s mileage will drop two or three percent. A Congressional Research Service backgrounder on ethanol says 10 percent ethanol blend drops your mileage 2-3 percent. (Link: Report, reference on page CRS-6)

KARE 11 took a road test to find out if ethanol really is a practical alternative to gas. We drove a flex-fuel Dodge Durango, one of about six million vehicles on the road today specially designed to run on either E85 or gasoline, and started with a full tank of pure E85. We drove until the tank was empty.

Using E85, we drove a total of 351.4 miles. The Durango’s tank held 28 gallons. That means our fuel efficiency with E85 was 12.55 miles per gallon.

After the tank had been drained, we re-filled at a gas station in Wisconsin, where the regular unleaded contained no ethanol. We drove back to Minnesota, and with no ethanol in the tank, the car felt the same on the road. But the difference in miles per gallon was huge. With gas containing no ethanol, we averaged about 20.41 miles per gallon. In other words, with E85 in the car, our mileage was 39 percent worse.

The result actually was worse than we expected. Consumer Reports magazine conducted a similar road test and found mileage was 27 percent worse with E85.

(Article The Ethanol Myth)

Either way, the money you save at the pump does not offset the difference in mileage. At the time of our road test, E85 cost 19 percent less than gas. So with E85, you have to spend more money to drive the same distance.

But the conversion of corn into ethanol has been pushed along by billions of dollars in government subsidies. The technology for converting grass is lagging about five years behind. (Link: Minnesota House of Representatives research on ethanol)

I think this ethanol booster has the right idea, though:

Even Don Brown, a former truck driver who calls himself the “E85 Man” and spends his retirement promoting ethanol, said he’d rather use no fuel at all.

“No,” he said, “this is only the first step. We gotta take the first step.”

What is a better way to reduce our oil consumption? “Electrics!” Brown said, snapping his fingers. “I would buy an electric car in a minute.”

Then he paused and said, “If I could.”

I will be the first to acknowledge that price isn’t everything. But I think this is the reason that consumers aren’t demanding E85, which therefore makes it stupid to try to force gas station owners to put in the pumps.