A Free-Market Energy Blog

Ethanol as an Alternative to Gasoline: Response to Rauch

By -- April 23, 2019

“So, apparently all the mechanics I’ve talked to and all the people selling correctives to the ethanol in gasoline are completely off-base, presumably in the pockets of the oil industry.  Yet even magazines like Popular Mechanics have weighed in with warnings.”

Back in October, I posted a piece on Forbes.com, “Put Ethanol in People, not Gasoline,” which was prompted by my ongoing struggles to keep my lawnmower functional. 

In response, Marc Rauch, executive vice president/co-publisher of the Auto Channel, took exception to my arguments that gasoline with 10% ethanol damages small engines and, more generally, that ethanol does not improve energy security by providing surge capacity to replace lost energy supply.

I respond to Mr. Rauch’s Open Letter to Energy Analyst Michael Lynch below. 

Let’s start with his argument that my lawnmower problems were because of gasoline–and solvable by an ethanol-gasoline blend.

“The inefficient burning of gasoline causes the build-up of debris in an internal combustion engine,” Rauch states. People who used lawnmowers in the 1950s and 1960s

find that it’s not operating smoothly, or at all. You’d open up the engine compartment and you’d notice all this crude/goop/slime covering all the parts and components….

That’s funny. I mowed lawns for money in the 1960s, sometimes 12–15 times a week, and never had such a problem.

True, gasoline engines can get dirty enough where, as Popular Mechanics notes, “Alcohol will also scour varnish and deposits out of the fuel system that have remained in place for years.”

But avoiding ethanol for such a role is akin to leaving the rust that holds the car together. It’s hardly a plus for ethanol that using it a few times has to be followed by a visit to the mechanic—and then it’s better!

Mr. Rauch’s support apparently comes from this ten-year-old webinar by Mercury Marine, a major engine manufacturer.

The solution suggested by Mercury Marine is the use of an ethanol-gasoline blend! In the ethanol webinar conducted by Mercury nearly ten years ago, Mercury stated that the ethanol-gasoline blend will help keep your engine free from debris build-up…. 

I couldn’t find the webinar, but I found this quotation:

After the transition period from E0, E10 may actually be a superior marine fuel as it tends to keep low levels of water moving through the fuel system, keeping the system ‘dry.’

In other words, they make the same point as above: after initial use of ethanol blends, it “may” be superior.  But they don’t mention maintenance. Mercury Marine clearly states on their website:

Fuel that exceeds 10% ethanol is not recommended.

Whereas Rauch insists “And my personal suggestion is that you should use at least E15 or E20 instead of just E10.” 

So, apparently all the mechanics I’ve talked to and all the people selling correctives to the ethanol in gasoline are completely off-base, presumably in the pockets of the oil industry. 

Magazines like Popular Mechanics have weighed in with warnings.

Highly tuned two-stroke engines will run leaner (and consequently hotter) on the lower Btu/gallon alcohol mix, potentially leading to melted pistons and scuffed cylinder walls….Worse yet, the alcohol itself ­oxidizes in the tank and produces a tenacious brown glop that’s far more damaging to fuel systems than the ­varnish we’re used to seeing in pure petroleum fuels.

Political Animus?

Versus a let-the-market-decide policy, Rauch has some very stringent political views on petroleum versus ethanol:

By the way, the reason I particularly link oil industry doublethink to Josef Goebbels is because of the massive support given to the Nazis by the oil industry’s biggest entities, such Standard Oil and Royal Dutch Shell. Supporting the petroleum oil industry over domestic ethanol is un-patriotic. Oil companies in America have little or no allegiance to America. People who work to support the oil companies are either dupes or they too have no allegiance to America.

This statement is hard to process.  I’ll let readers judge, but note that although American farmers sold grain to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, I don’t feel that is evidence that they are unpatriotic. 

Rauch also seems to think that I’m a “historically-deprived person.” But he apparently is unaware that, as Lord Curzon said, “the Allies floated to victory on a sea of oil,” not ethanol. Or that Nazi Germany’s lack of sufficient petroleum was a major hindrance to their war effort. 

Does he really think that all the people supply oil to the Allies in World Wars I and II were unpatriotic?  Or that ethanol could have replaced the petroleum used?

I don’t dispute that automobiles run fine on an E10 blend or that the oil industry now requires ethanol as an octane enhancer for gasoline. But having specific volumes mandated by politicians is quite another thing–and, as experience shows, foolish.

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