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One of the live oaks that bless my home

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ethanol in fuel - Up close and personal

Five years ago, I published a short letter to Science about the real biofuel cycles.  The letter was published after a long struggle with the journal's Editor of Physical Sciences, Dr. R. Brooks Hanson, who limited my letter to 150 words, and tried to prevent me from putting in a link to these supporting materials. The whole fight was for not, because the link has been broken since I left Berkeley.  In these supporting materials, I made the following two statements:
Furfural in an impure ethanol mixture will gradually dissolve almost any rubber or elastomeric seals or ducts in storage systems and car fuel systems. (Page 13)

Finally, ethanol dissolves a large number of substances insoluble in water and acids, such as many inorganic salts, phosphorus, sulfur, iodine, resins, essential oils, fats, coloring matters, etc. (Wright, 1994).  Therefore, the metal-rich sludge in fuel tanks of most older cars will dissolve in ethanol-containing gasoline and accelerate corrosion of fuel systems and engines in these cars. Older fiberglass fuel tanks will dissolve in ethanol concentrated in the omnipresent trace water, causing gradual failure of many motor boat engines. Because fuel tanks in gas stations are made of steel, there will be increased corrosion from the metal salts-ethanol-water electrolyte. This corrosion will ultimately eat through the tank walls. (Page 38)
Almost no one paid attention.

Today, I had a personal encounter with my own predictions.  My Stihl chain saw stopped working.

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My Stihl chain saw with the replaced carburetor membranes, fuel filter and spark plug 

The competent local dealer told me cheerfully that the carburetor membrane in the saw got stretched and lost elasticity because of ethanol in the gasoline.

Click on the image to see the full size.
Here you can see the ethanol-damaged bulging elastomer membrane in the carburetor that no longer could maintain fuel pressure, causing the primed saw to stall after 5 seconds or so.

In short, the carburetor stopped functioning because of ethanol in all gasoline I can buy in Texas.  For my three different saws, I only purchase the highest octane gasoline at a local Exxon station, hoping that they do not add ethanol crap to their best product.  Obviously, I have been proven wrong. The cost of rebuilding the carburetor was almost $100, plus two car trips to the dealer.

Given my long track record with the ethanol biofuel additive, I really do not feel disposed to subsidize this racket from my own pocket.  It is enough that my tax money is being wasted every day to keep corn ethanol on a life-support system.

What do you think?  If you have a similar story, please drop a comment.  Perhaps together we can do something about it.