Consumer Retorts

Cindy Zimmerman

Consumer Reports The media has made much this week about the Consumer Reports report that ethanol is less fuel efficient than gasoline. This is something the ethanol industry freely admits.

The “quick take” from the Consumer Report is this:
E85, which is 85 percent ethanol, emits less smog-causing pollutants than gasoline, but provides fewer miles per gallon, costs more, and is hard to find outside the Midwest.

All true statements at this particular point in time. The first statement – that ethanol “emits less smog-causing pollutants than gasoline” – is universally true and will not change. It is also one of the primary reasons that people who are concerned about global warming or other environmental issues should advocate the use of ethanol in this country.

The second statement – that ethanol provides few miles per gallon – could change if auto makers come up with different types of engines that are made to run on ethanol instead of gasoline. Indy cars are being tuned to run more efficiently on ethanol, since they are making the switch to 100 percent ethanol next year.

Third – ethanol costs more. This is a changable truth. Consumer Reports only looked at ethanol prices in the past several months when they have been historically high due to strong demand fueled by the switch from MTBE to ethanol as an oxygenate in major metropolitan areas. The basic law of supply and demand dictates that the price will decline as the supply increases, and in fact, prices have already come down in recent weeks.

Finally, the lack of availability outside the midwest is changing every day. For example, Phil Lampert with the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition notes that Kroger just opened about 20 new E85 fueling stations in Texas, and he says, “By this time next year we expect to have 300 (e85) stations in New York state where today there are zero.”

NEVC would like to see 1500 E85 pumps around the nation by the end of this year. The NEVC website is updated daily with new places where E85 fuel can be found around the nation.

Since most ethanol production facilities are located in the midwest, that’s where most of the E85 pumps are going right now. But, as production begins to start up in New York, California, Texas, Florida, etc. there will be more and more. Ethanol is about the environment, national security and vehicle performance, not about fuel economy. But, hopefully as production increases it will ultimately end up costing less and saving consumers money in the long run.

No one expects ethanol to completely replace gasoline, but simply REDUCING our dependence on foreign oil is a step in the right direction.