Daily Item


Topic E15 "Gasoline"
Day 05 Jan 2013


E15 "gasoline" is creeping into the broad market.  It is not available locally yet but you may encounter it when travelling elsewhere.  It is an ethanol blend with 15% ethanol and 85% conventional gasoline.  This should not be confused with E85 which is 85% ethanol and is only to be used in "Flex Fuel" vehicles.

Virtually all cars, trucks and other gasoline powered vehicles manufactured before 2012 should not use E15.  It is quite corrosive and will cause fuel system problems.  It was approved for use in the US by the EPA without sufficient long term testing.  Most major automobile manufacturers, motorcycle manufacturers, boat manufacturers and other manufacturers of "gas engines" have stated that the use of E15 will void your warranty.   For more info, see this video from Fox News; or this item from USA Today

Ethanol is an alcohol product produced from domestic corn.  The argument for using ethanol in motor vehicles is that it reduces reliance on foreign oil and is cheaper/greener.  The former is probably true, but the latter is not.  Unfortunately, the "ethanol debate" is a lot like global warming or any number of debates where each side seems to have a really good set of arguments.  It appears to this writer that E15 (and most ethanol products) is another example of poorly thought-out federal policy.  Ethanol blends appear to be “better for the environment” because they reduce greenhouse gases and the use of petroleum base, but that is not really the case.  When you adjust the Washington bafflegab to account for the reduced caloric content (less energy) which mean poorer mileage and the indirect environmental costs of growing the corn (massive subsidies and guess where fertilizers come from) and vehicle damage, and that historically most U.S. ethanol has came from corn and the required electricity for many distilleries came mainly from coal, Ethanol blends only help corn farmers and ethanol producers, not the environment and not you.  And guess who is paying these subsidies so farmers1 can grow corn and ethanol produces2   can product the ethanol that eventually finds its way into your gas tank.  When you look at the real costs of E85 it is close to $7 per gallon.  The diversion of corn from food to fuel also drives up the price of food.  It is estimated that the fraction of US corn production that is now diverted to ethanol production would feed 400 million people. 

But even if the E15 blend acts as the EPA claims, it is approved only for cars manufactured after 2001.  But there is no effective way to preclude the use in older cars -- nothing like the small pump nozzle and associated filler tube that was implements for non-leaded gasoline.  So unless the owner knows and is paying attention, his pre 2001 vehicle is in trouble. 

This is just one more example of how pathetic the federal government is when it comes to thinking through long term implications of their policy decisions.  It is difficult to identify even a single example of a new government initiative that did not back fire.  If the federal government were required to abide by the same rules that govern companies under agency oversight, we would have far fewer incidents like E15.  But it could be worse:  as Will Rogers said, "it is a good thing that we do not get all the government we pay for".


1.  subsidies to corn farmers have totaled over $82 billion in the last 15 years.  Corn is our most lavishly subsidized food crop, by a wide margin; it drew more in subsidies over that period than wheat, soybeans , and rice combined.

2.  subsidies to ethanol producers (45 to 51 cents per gallon produced and sold) stopped at the end of 2011.  The estimate for subsidies awarded to the ethanol producing industry through the end of 2011 is $45 billion