As ethanol-free gasoline becomes scarcer and raising the blend from 10 to 15 percent ethanol gasoline at the pumps looms, concern grows among many locals. In response to the federal push for bio-fuel, most gas stations have adjusted to sell 10 percent ethanol gasoline over the past decade. A few local gas stations continue to sell ethanol-free fuel.
Don Bentz, owner of Bentz’s Town Pump, believes the ethanol-free gasoline blend is an superior product. He carries 10 percent ethanol fuel, but also has enough gas tanks that he can dedicate one to 88-octane, ethanol-free gasoline.
In ethanol blended gasoline, phase separation can occur. That’s when water leaks into a tank and mixes with the ethanol, then the water/ethanol mixture separates from the gasoline and drops to the bottom. That lowers the octane level of the entire tank, which leads to poor engine performance. If enough phase separation happens, the water and ethanol mix can enter vehicles and cause engine stall. Ethanol also can loosen deposits inside tanks and piping, which increases the amount of sludge and particulate at the bottom of tanks. Bentz said he makes sure water can’t enter his pump tanks and takes recommended precautions.
While modern vehicle manufacturers adapted their products for ethanol fuel, local mechanics say ethanol fuel damages boats, small engines and older cars.
At White’s Marine Center, service manager Nick Charest said he sees problems daily — especially clogged carburetors — caused by ethanol in boat fuel tanks. The boat industry lags behind cars in adapting to ethanol fuel.
“Absolutely no ethanol is what the recommendation is,” he said. Phase separation occurs often in boat fuel tanks and deteriorates fuel systems, according to Charest. The humid environment adds to the problem as boats sit in water on hot days. A fuel additive can be used which helps keep the fuel stable, but he recommends avoiding ethanol fuel in boats altogether.
“The number one reason that ethanol is worse in our industry than in cars is that boats are known to sit,” Charest said. “The longer ethanol sits in the fuel tank, the more water it absorbs and the more it eats at the fuel tank and the fuel lines.”
Audie Morgan frequently sees ethanol damage as a small engine technician at Hood’s Equipment & Sprinkler. Ethanol gasoline damages rubber parts on small engines of landscaping machines like weed-whackers and lawn mowers.
“It’s not such havoc on multi-cylinder engines like in cars,” Morgan said, “but more in single and twin engines like in mowers and snow machines.”
He recommends people use non-ethanol fuel in small engines and not allow gasoline to sit in an engine without a stabilizer for longer than a month. Any kind of gasoline sitting in a tank over time goes bad, according to Morgan.
Rick Thurston, owner of Rick’s Rod Shop, said ethanol fuel damages older cars, and that all vehicles get better gas mileage with non-ethanol gasoline.
“Here’s a good example of what ethanol does,” he said, holding up a completely clogged fuel tank connector. Ethanol can eat into galvanizing coatings and lead to rusty steel lines, though newer hoses are designed to not be affected by ethanol. He believes all vehicles on the road are better off with ethanol-free gasoline. One reason is that oxygen sensors fail more quickly because of ethanol.
“There’s various things that make these go bad, but it’s basically contaminants, which is deposits left in the poor quality fuel,” Thurston said. “The ethanol has a lot to do with it.”
He held up a jar of gasoline he drained from a vehicle gas tank. Sediment swirled at the bottom of green liquid.
“This one’s even worse,” he said about a more clear-looking but viscous gasoline sample he drained from a tank of a customer he said regularly used poor-quality gasoline.
“It cost him two fuel pumps at about a thousand bucks a pop,” Thurston said. Ten years ago, a fuel pump cost about $60-100. Fuel pumps now cost around $730 due to ethanol-compatible connectors.
Thurston recommends people calculate gas mileage themselves and compare gas stations’ fuel quality and ethanol vs. non-ethanol fuel.
“Track your gas mileage,” he said. ‘That’s the only way to tell if you’re buying good gas or bad gas.”
Chemical engineer Frank Odasz said ethanol-blended gasoline gives fewer miles to the gallon, costs fuel buyers more in taxes to subsidize producers of ethanol and raises the cost of food.
Vehicles filled with ethanol-blended fuel get poorer gas mileage because 10 percent ethanol gas has about 84 percent of the heating value of regular gasoline.
“You can go 100 miles [with regular gasoline], whereas with the ethanol-adulterated gasoline you’d only go 84 miles,” Odasz said.
Not many people know ethanol is an adulterant, he added. It also has a high vapor pressure which can contribute to vapor lock during warm weather.
“Because of the high vapor pressure, it’s necessary — in the summertime particularly — for the refiner to cut back on some of the better hydrocarbons like isopentane and normal butane in order to blend the ethanol in so you don’t get vapor lock.”
Another major problem Odasz sees with ethanol lies in using a major food crop for fuel. The cost of food went up and subsidies to those who farm corn used to make ethanol raised the cost of fuel.
“One thing people should know is a 54-cent-per-gallon subsidy, mandated by Congress, goes to ethanol producers in the Midwest,” Odasz said. “There’s that subsidy, it’s an inferior product and it affects the price you pay for your food. So it’s a triple-whammy!”
U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., opposes legislation that expands ethanol fuel mandates.
“Folks all across Wyoming have contacted my office voicing their concerns about ethanol fuel mandates,” Barrasso said in an e-mail. “I believe it makes little sense to mandate the production of ethanol from corn. It contributes to higher food costs and also makes feed prices higher for Wyoming’s livestock producers.”
Wyoming has one ethanol production plant, Wyoming Ethanol LLC. “Ethanol is a much cleaner burning fuel,” said company CEO Terry Oldfield about the advantages of ethanol. The 10 percent blend reduces tail pipe emissions by 20 percent. The other benefit is that it reduces some dependence on imported oil.
Currently, ethanol fuel is 25-40 cents a gallon less than clear gasoline, according to Oldfield. The Wyoming Ethanol plant in Goshen County produces about 8 million gallons of ethanol a year. Plant manager Vic Tomek said company vehicles have run on various blends of ethanol fuel, from 10 to 85 percent, for more than a decade. Some vehicles are designed to be compatible with E85, which is 85 percent ethanol.
“We’ve never had any issues when it came to running any alcohol blends,” Tomek said.