EPA ethanol requirement waivers have positive environmental consequence

Discussion in 'Environmental Discussion' started by Georgina Rudkus, Aug 29, 2019.

  1. Georgina Rudkus

    Georgina Rudkus Active Member

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    Finally, the current administration got something right as an unintended consequence;

    Minn. farmers, ethanol producers see EPA waivers as attack - StarTribune.com

    Minnesota farmers, ethanol producers see EPA waivers as attack
    Farmers and ethanol producers in Minnesota say the waiver controversy is the latest battle in a long-running war for sales and market share.
    By Jim Spencer and Mike Hughlett Star Tribune
    April 24, 2018 — 10:36pm
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    “It’s kind of an ironic twist that you have an administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency pushing back a product that helps the environment,” farmer Brian Thalmann said.
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    WASHINGTON – Brian Thalmann has been selling corn for ethanol for two decades. In that time the farmer from Plato, Minn., says he has never seen an attack on renewable fuel like the one currently underway by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

    Using a secretive process, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has increased the issuance of waivers to small oil refineries, absolving them from meeting federal standards that require blending ethanol with gasoline. Corn farmers and ethanol producers across Minnesota, fearing a financial hit, are crying foul.

    “It’s kind of an ironic twist that you have an administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency pushing back a product that helps the environment,” said Thalmann who, like many Minnesota corn growers, relies on sales to ethanol plants as a critical source of income.

    Sensing a threat to the ethanol program, a bipartisan group of Midwestern U.S. senators, including Minnesota Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, have called on Pruitt to stop handing out ethanol waivers and reveal who has gotten waivers and why. U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, sent a letter to President Donald Trump, asking him to stop Pruitt.

    Farmers and ethanol producers in Minnesota say the waiver controversy is the latest battle in a long-running war for sales and market share between the oil and renewable fuel industries. The renewable fuel standard (RFS) has been controversial since its inception in 2005. Free marketers and the oil industry see it as an anti-competitive government mandate. Anti-poverty groups have charged that it encourages farmers to produce less food for people. Some environmentalists are skeptical of the ethanol industry’s green credentials.

    But Trump’s 2017 appointment of Pruitt to lead the EPA has brought things to a head, given Pruitt’s past ties to the oil industry and his criticism of the ethanol program.

    The EPA will not confirm the total number of gallons of ethanol Pruitt has exempted from production so far this year. Trade groups for farmers and biofuel producers believe it could already be at least 1.6 billion gallons. If Pruitt continues on that pace, it could significantly undercut 2018’s 15 billion gallon national production mandate, ethanol producers say.

    “The criteria used to grant waivers has not changed since previous administrations,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said in an e-mail to the Star Tribune. “EPA follows a long-standing, established process where the agency uses a DOE analysis to inform decisions about refiner exemptions/waivers. These waivers are only considered for refineries that submit applications and that are below the blending threshold.”

    The EPA says it has granted 25 waiver requests so far this year, and applications for more production waivers continue to arrive.

    Klobuchar called the 25 waiver figure “unbelievable.”

    “It used to be like six or seven of these a year from what we understood,” she said.

    “You want to give agencies some flexibility to help in unique business situations,” Klobuchar said. But Pruitt is taking that authority “and driving an oil tanker through it.”

    Smith said Pruitt looks to be playing favorites. “Mr. Pruitt is giving his fossil fuel friends a huge advantage over family farmers in Minnesota,” she said in an e-mail to the Star Tribune.

    Tim Rudnicki, executive director of the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association, called the situation an attempt by Pruitt “to eviscerate the law.”

    And at Denco II, a biofuel facility in Morris, Minn., which produces 30 million barrels of ethanol per year, General Manager Mick Miller accused Pruitt of “handing out waivers like trick-or-treat candy behind closed doors in a way that seems unethical.”

    The waivers allow distressed refineries that produce fewer than 75,000 barrels per day of fuel to forgo either blending ethanol, or buying credits in lieu of blending. But in addition to saving small oil refiners from economic hardship, Pruitt has reportedly been granting ethanol production waivers to small refineries owned by big oil companies.

    San Antonio-based Andeavor, a company which in 2017 earned more than $1.7 billion on $35 billion in revenue, won waivers for three of its smaller refineries, including two in North Dakota, Reuters reported earlier this month. Andeavor, formerly known as Tesoro, owns a refinery in St. Paul Park, but that facility is too large to be eligible for an exemption.

    Citing unnamed sources, Reuters has also reported that large oil companies — including ExxonMobil and Chevron — have applied for waivers for smaller refineries.

    “It’s an abuse,” Rudnicki said. “I’d like somebody to explain to me how Exxon and Chevron can be small refiners. They are among the largest oil companies on the globe.”

    Patrick Kelly, senior policy adviser for the American Petroleum Institute, a group covering a broad swath of the oil industry, said the RFS has long allowed exemptions for small refineries owned by large oil companies. But he said the number of waivers for all small refineries has surged after a federal court decision in August 2017.

    Sinclair Oil sued the EPA after the agency wouldn’t grant waivers for two of its small refineries in Wyoming. The EPA ruled that the refineries should not be exempted because they both appeared profitable enough to comply with their ethanol mandates. The Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, finding the EPA’s standard was too narrow.

    The EPA was granting waivers only when the long-term survival of a refinery was at stake — i.e., that a refinery faced an “existential threat,” the court concluded. That definition was at odds with what Congress intended.

    “The issue was how high of a bar the EPA was setting,” Kelly said. “The court said it was too high of a bar, but it [the court] didn’t really set the bar. The court kicked it back to the EPA to reconsider how high to set the bar.” The EPA has not explained its waiver standards, Kelly said. “It is really an opaque process,” he noted. “EPA should be more forthcoming in how it is setting this bar.”

    With the process kept secret, the amount of ethanol exempted from the renewable fuel standard is not clear at a time when knowing the number of gallons that have been cut from the national production quota is critical to farmers, said Minnesota native Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, a trade group representing U.S. biofuel producers. If current estimates of more than 1 billion gallons are true, she said, it could cause corn growers to lose 50 cents per bushel and clobber the Corn Belt’s rural economy, already under pressure from slumping crop prices.

    Minnesota is the nation’s fourth largest ethanol producer. The state’s ethanol output has grown from 1.03 billion gallons in 2013 to 1.2 billion gallons in 2017. Nineteen ethanol plants now operate in the state. They employ 1,700 people directly and generate more than $2 billion in annual sales, state officials say. Corn farmers rely significantly on sales to these facilities.

    Richard Syverson grows 700 acres of corn on his farm in Clontarf, Minn., and sells much of it for ethanol. Syverson bought shares in the Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co. when it opened in 1993. Ethanol, he said, “allows rural folks to participate in the energy space and it helps clean up the environment.”

    Syverson called Pruitt’s issuance of hardship waivers “outrageous, to put it mildly.”

    “Some of these companies made more money than all of the corn farmers in Minnesota [put together],” he said. “That just doesn’t make sense to me.”




    Washington correspondent Jim Spencer examines the impact of federal politics and policy on Minnesota businesses, especially the medical technology, food distribution, farming, manufacturing, retail and health insurance industries.



    Plowing land for growing food for fuel has been a totally wasteful political boondoggle.
     
  2. hill

    hill High Fiber Member

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    Certainly folks can appreciate the plight of farmers, who, like everyone else, need to make a living. After investing ten$ or hundred$ of thousand$ in equipment (itself, requiring untold 10's of thousands of kWh's to manufacture) to till the land, again - requiring more fuel & lubrication oil, to get the equipment across those acres, then more petrochemical fuel to plant, then more petrochemical fuel to pump the water up to grow, then more petrochemical fuel 2 spray petrochemical insecticide, then more petrochemical fuel to spread petrochemical fertilizer, then more petrol chemical fuel to harvest, then more petrochemical fuel to get it to the processor, then more Petro chemical energy to ferment into alcohol, so that Ice Vehicles everywhere can burn it driving (... as opposed to selling it for less money, to people that could use corn as food - tortillas, flour, Etc, but that's another issue)

    Two issues come to mind by this process;
    1 - what is the true energy gain after energy used, to grow food & turn it into car exhaust.
    2 - discounting CO2 from all that processing above, how does an automotive alcohol fuel source's efficiency measure up against (for instance) regular gas, or electric cars, or diesel.

    Sorry to take all of the political drama out of it, but the question really seems more simple to just ignore the politics smattered with a suggestion of conspiracy against farmers.
    .
     
  3. Trollbait

    Trollbait It's a D&D thing

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    "Ethanol made the transition from an energy sink, to a moderate net energy gain in the 1990s, and to a substantial net energy gain by 2008."
    https://www.usda.gov/oce/reports/energy/2015EnergyBalanceCornEthanol.pdf
    A little better than 2 times the energy used in the ethanol according to the conclusion.
     
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  4. Ronald Doles

    Ronald Doles Member

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    Ethanol was introduced in motor fuel in 2005 with the introduction of RFS (renewable fuel standard) It was a time when the U.S. was only producing 3 million barrels per day of oil and we were consuming 9.2 million barrels per day of gasoline. Our consumption of gasoline has dropped for the last 4 years as more hybrids and electric vehicles appear on the scene as well as improved mileage of new ICE vehicles that are replacing older vehicles. We currently consume 8 million barrels per day. We now produce 11 million barrels of gasoline per day and are actually exporting it.

    The upside is:
    10% Ethanol (E10) replaced MTBE as a safer octane booster in gasoline. MTBE was a carcinogen and fuel spills have managed to get into and contaminate drinking water.

    The downside is:
    The demand for corn adds about $0.75 cents to the cost of a bushel raising the prices of any food made with corn or corn syrup.

    Ethanol costs more to produce at $1.70/gallon vs gasoline $.90/gallon. After you add in the additives, transportation and taxes, you get our pump prices.

    Ethanol has less energy per gallon than gasoline so adding it to gasoline increases it's cost and lowers the mileage that a vehicle gets.

    Quote from FuelEconomy.gov - Ethanol contains about one-third less energy than gasoline. So, vehicles will typically go 3% to 4% fewer miles per gallon on E10 and 4% to 5% fewer on E15 than on 100% gasoline.

    E10 is not a problem for fuel systems on vehicles that refuel week after week. It is a problem for small engines that are used seasonally. The fuel in that equipment like mowers, weedeaters, generators, motorcycles that may sit for some period of time . When the fuel sits for more than a couple weeks it begins what is called a phase separation. The Ethanol separates out as a top layer of fuel with little or no Ethanol and a second layer that settles at the bottom of the fuel tank. That second layer is corrosive and damages the aluminum parts in the carburetors on those small engines.

    My solution for this would be for filling stations across the country to offer one gas pump that offers straight gasoline. Aviation gas and most boat docks sell straight gasoline because the risks associated with fuel problems is higher with planes and boats. In Florida this is done at many filling stations making it convenient for people to fill their boats. In Florida, straight gas costs about $0.50 more per gallon than E10 and boaters buy it.

    Where I have a problem is that the Ethanol producers are now trying to move to E15 that is being advertised as Unleaded 88. It will further increase the price of food and gasoline and decrease the fleet mileage.

    The political side of this is that oil producers would like to eliminate or minimize Ethanol and increase their market and the corn growers and Ethanol producers would like to increase the percent added to motor fuel to increase their market share. The lobbyists from both sides of this argument are trying to pull the administration in two directions.
     
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  5. hill

    hill High Fiber Member

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    The Department of Agriculture ..... they write reports ..... the reports find that agriculturally created ethanol is a net gain ..... & that's favorable to the agribusiness.
    For some reason, that reminds me of another agribusiness, tobacco, and some of their favorable conclusions in times past;
    cigarette-adscamelsstanford.jpg

    10..jpg

    image4508939x.jpg

    more-doctors-smoke-camels-30.jpg
    Certainly the Department of Agriculture is not as corrupt as the doctors & Hollywood that got paid by the tobacco industry. But - they do know what side of the bread that the butter is on.
    What really seems to raise a red flag - is when agribusiness calls ethanol a net gain. Imagine all of the input fuels mentioned in post #2. Ultimately, after you spend all that energy from all those sources, you come out ahead ... a net gain. Why not take that ethanol fuel, recycle into, & in place of all the post #2 inputs & get even more energy, then keep doing it again & again & again. You'd have so much perpetual ethanol energy, we'd have to stop using gasoline ... because after all, ethanol is such a net gain.

    .
     
    #5 hill, Oct 20, 2019
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2019
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  6. t_newt

    t_newt Member

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    You left out plug in hybrids, where fuel will also often sit for a couple of weeks. Now you've got me worried.
     
  7. Trollbait

    Trollbait It's a D&D thing

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    Ethanol has been added to gasoline in the US since the 1970's; the first federal incentives were started in 1979. The use of it dropped off in the'80s and '90s with cheap oil.

    My understanding is that its main job is as an oxygenate, which modern cars can do without. Much of what the EPA and CARB dictate for fuel blends is for the few older vehicles still on the road and power equipment.

    Upside: maybe they'll stop putting corn syrup into everything we eat.:unsure:

    Just found out the Netherlands uses hydrous ethanol in their gasoline. Anhydrous ethanol, which is usually used, can't be produced by distilling alone; the water to ethanol bond is too strong to get purer than 95.5%. Historically, benzene was added to bind up the last bit of water from the ethanol. Today, molecular sieves are used, but it still adds the the production cost. Which mostly goes to waste as the alcohol picks up water on its journey to your fuel tank.

    Before ethanol in gas became prevalent, the manuals for power equipment instructed owners to drain the tank and run them dry before storage. The vents in the fuel system that let water in also lets oxygen in and fuel vapors out. The process of those two ages even straight gasoline, which leads to deposits and low octane. The presence of ethanol just makes following those instructions more important for preventing issues the next time the equipment is used. Starting up a lawnmower with gas without ethanol in the tank from last season was a PITA to begin with.

    The solution to phase separation is to add more alcohol. I used rubbing alcohol in the first tank of a season to get any excess water out of the carb bowl. When the blend gets up to E30, phase separation isn't a concern.

    Turns out leaving the last bit of water in the ethanol prevents the corrosion of aluminum. The metal has a protective layer of oxide that is the source of its durability. Alcohols can dissolve it, but aluminum prefers reacting with water, leaving the oxide in place.
    Common ethanol fuel mixtures - Wikipedia

    Don't know about planes, but some boats have fiberglass fuel tanks. Ethanol dissolves the resin in the tank walls, and deposits it in the engine. So people do need access to ethanol free gasoline. The station with it that I pass in North Carolina, charges $1 to $2 more for it.

    I agree the main issue in the politics surrounding it. I'd like other renewable fuels allowed into the gas supply instead of sticking with just ethanol.
    Car gas tanks are far better sealed than those on power equipment, boats, and portable cans. Remember, E10 was the norm for most of the US population before the Volt arrived, and I think GM was more concerned with octane drop that gas can experience in time.

    The only time I ever had an issue with phase separation was when I added too wet acetone to the lawnmower. If it is still a concern for you, add Heet(methanol) or Iso-Heet(isopropanol) to the tank. They'll keep any extra water that might have gotten into the tank in solution with the gas.
     
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  8. meeder

    meeder Member

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    In the Netherlands there are two different products.
    One is normal E10 with anhydrous ethanol and there is something called BlueOne 95 which contains 15% hydrous ethanol.
    The future of BlueOne is highly uncertain and it looks like it is going away since E10 is mandatory at most gas stations and they are looking to have an alternative at hand for cars that don't like E10 in the form of a 98 octane E5 gasoline. Gas stations that offered BlueOne could be switching that out for 98 E5.

    *Note, octane ratings are different in Europe since we only use RON and not the AKI (average of RON and MON) like the US is using.
    95 RON is approximately 90 in the US.
    98 RON is approximately 93.
    100 RON is approximately 95.
    We don't have fuel lower than 95 RON, we had 91 RON but that was discontinued a long time ago, Germany held on that for the longest time.
    Most "premium" gasoline types (Shell V-Power, BP Ultimate, etc) are 98 RON in the Netherlands whereas you can get 100 or 102 in Germany.
     
  9. noonm

    noonm Active Member

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    There are.

    Here are the EPA-approved EPA fuels allowed to meet the renewable fuel standard: Approved Pathways for Renewable Fuel | Renewable Fuel Standard Program | US EPA

    The issue is that corn-ethanol is still by far the cheapest one to meet the gasoline requirement.
     
  10. Trollbait

    Trollbait It's a D&D thing

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    Nine of the twenty listed are ethanol.:rolleyes:
    While renewable natural gas is on the list, there is no mention of methanol that can easily be made from it or fermentation. California once allowed and had methanol flex fuel cars on its roads.
     
  11. wjtracy

    wjtracy Senior Member

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    Ethanol first came as part of the 1990 Clean Air Act Ammendments.
    At that time, Refomrulated Gasiline was born from joint industry/EPA auto emission studies on fuels.
    Surprisingly, the lab data started showing no emissions benefit for ethanol (with cat converters), but Congress had more or less already decided to mandate ethanol anyways. Big fight, and the decision was ethanol and/or MTBE, whereas MTBE later got banned for eco-reasons.

    Main thing to keep in mind:
    there is no fundamental or scientific need to blend oxygenates in gasoline.
    Does it work? Yes. Is it needed for any technical reason? No.

    Ethanol in particular exerts excess vapor pressure and leads to increased evap emissions, unless the fuel and specs are changed to allow including the ethanol.

    So mandating ethanol is to help farmers, and ADM. Basically create jobs by making a new industry. Some would add decreasing reliance on petroluem, etc. But those are debatable politiical goals. Of course we cannot change City Hall, so we have to accept it.

    Ethanol lobby is vocal and strong and they want to see E15 mandated next.
     
    #11 wjtracy, Oct 21, 2019
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2019
  12. Rmay635703

    Rmay635703 Senior Member

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    im not sure where to start with the above

    but

    1. I find it amusing how conservative farmers get butthurt every time their party does what it said it would do and then vote the same way afterwords.

    2. Hybrids have had minimal affect on fuel consumption, As they generally are used in place of otherwise efficient ICEs,
    the 2020 Silverado pickup is rated at 33mpg, OTR has doubled economy in about 25 years with 12mpg rigs coming online soon, about 80% of the reductions in fuel use point directly at the heavy end of the mart which is 100% ICE.
    Add to this the heavy end of the market wants to shift (it’s fair share) to mopeds, small cars and The non-driving public as “everyone benefits from their services”

    3. E15 does not necessarily have any significant effect on economy in warm/hot areas. Heck e30 can do much better than expected for the same reason.
    Compression ratios above 11:1 are common nowadays and higher octane, increased cooling and the more favorable vapor point of medium ethanol blends make it possible to run more efficiently, (in warm climatrsgiven manufacturers are begging for higher ethanol standards and the petro aeromatics that get high octane are frowned upon expect more ethanol or *gasp methanol/butanol in fuel as we don’t have base stocks to even make much E0 87 RUG Anymore. (Petroleum industry loves using low quality 84 octane gas blended with ethanol )

    4. look at the gas economy of my volt attached as my avitar for why e15 may not really matter.

    5. Food for fuel has been debunked repeatedly
    Despite crop failures corn costs are minimally affected upwards, the corn grown for fuel is not fit for human consumption, many times moldy and useless
    the resulting high quality feed made from the leftover brewers ends are helping more than hurting. That said the additional fallow land being planted is nutritionally devoid of value and we are damaging our top soil to grow this extra feed, 1/3 of which becomes protein meal.

    that said yes E0 Regular should be available in more areas.
     
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  13. Trollbait

    Trollbait It's a D&D thing

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    The first federal subsidies for ethanol in gasoline date back to the late '70s.
    History of Ethanol Production and Policy — Energy
    Timeline of alcohol fuel - Wikipedia

    There was a push to use it as an octane booster in the '20s and '30s, I think lead by Ford, but we went with lead instead.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that not all the gasoline used is going into pressurized fuel tanks for fuel injected engines with emission controls. Gasoline isn't just an on road motor vehicle fuel, and emission regulations need to address that.

    Then many of the oxygenates are octane boosters.
     
  14. Georgina Rudkus

    Georgina Rudkus Active Member

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    Before that, it was the cheaper and more easily made methanol made from coal, methane (natural gas) and recovered from landfills. But, it did not benefit the corn farming lobby.

    Before 2000, California and Ford had an extensive program of using "Gasohol" blended from gasoline and methanol.

    Methanol could be made in local factories and easily blended locally with gasoline.

    Ethanol from corn makes no sense, except for the economic befit of the corn lobby at everyone else's expense.
     
  15. ETC(SS)

    ETC(SS) The other One Percenter.....

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    In a nation where most of the corn is used as sileage to fatten cows, turned into HFCS to fatten kids, or in the adult beverage industry....I’m thinking that burning it in cars is about the most common sense thing you CAN do with it.
    Iran isn’t knocking holes in tankers filled with corn.
    Obesity is probably one of the largest preventable health problems we have in the west.

    Once you get all of the activists and paid lobbyists out of the loop, it’s pretty easy to noodle out which one is better for the “planet.”

    However (comma!) like many, I have my biases.
    I got a free one year paid vacation to someplace warm and sandy.


    ....twice.

    It wasn’t caused by corn.

    YMMV
     
  16. Georgina Rudkus

    Georgina Rudkus Active Member

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    Natural gas or methane is available cheap and almost everywhere in the US by pipeline. Locally, methane is easily convertible to methanol to be blended into gasoline locally. Methanol needs to be transported by tanker truck from the factories in the Midwest. Because it is "hydroscopic," it cannot be transported by pipeline.

    Here, in South Carolina, BMW is extracting methane from landfills and using it to fuel their North American operation.

    There is no such thing as "clean" coal, but making coal into coal gas and into methanol is much cleaner than burning it.
     
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  17. Rmay635703

    Rmay635703 Senior Member

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    although methanol is federally allowed in Gasahol up to m10,

    it is the source of all the horror stories from a bygone age as to why you can’t run a car on gasahol

    that said Methanol should generally be used as m5 or less in the average car since it has an even stronger tendency to cause fueling issues and reduced economy as compared to ethanol.

    A mix of ethanol and methanol (even butanol) up to em15 would likely allow you to sub in some methanol in each gallon without as many issues.

    From a fueling standpoint Ethanol or bio butanol is best.
     
  18. wjtracy

    wjtracy Senior Member

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    I'd be surprised if Methanol is allowed in USA gasoline.
     
  19. Georgina Rudkus

    Georgina Rudkus Active Member

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    That's only because of the ethanol mandate. Car engines have to be designed to use it. In China, it is illegal to use food stuffs fore fuel. They are concentrating on methanol.

    In developing countries and primitive remote locals, methanol generators were once made to burn wood to power engines. Methanol is also commonly known as wood alcohol.
     
  20. sam spade 2

    sam spade 2 Senior Member

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    ALSO......if I understand it correctly, the ethanol is NOT blended with the gas at the refinery(s) because the pipelines are not ethanol "compatible". So the ethanol is trucked to the distribution terminals (tank farms) and blended there.

    If that is true, how is a "small refinery" involved in the ethanol mandates at all ??

    And since when are there any "small refineries" left in the US ??
    I though there were only about 7 left......and all were owned by the likes of Exon-Mobil.

    This all leads me to believe that the article and many of the "facts" in it are just made up propaganda.
     
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