Gasohol: Technical, Economic, or Political Panacea?



West Coast International Meeting and Exposition
Authors Abstract
Gasohol, a blend of 90 percent unleaded gasoline and 10 percent ethanol, has been represented as an alternative to pure gasoline which can reduce the nation’s crude oil dependence. However, a systems analysis of the gasohol production processes indicates that gasohol is increasing rather than decreasing the nation’s dependence on crude oil. Alternative uses of the petroleum and natural gas currently used to manufacture ethanol would reduce the nation’s demand for oil. At the present time, every gallon of crude oil “saved” by substituting ethanol for gasoline results in a need to import approximately two gallons of crude oil.
The federal government’s claim that gasohol can reduce the nation’s dependence on imported energy appears, to be based principally on political considerations, but also on the assumption that coal will eventually replace the petroleum and natural gas currently used in the gasohol production wherever possible. However, if one considers using the coal that would otherwise be consumed in gasohol production to make methanol or synthetic gasoline and diesel fuel, then, gasohol will not reduce our dependence on imported energy but it will result in higher energy costs. Although many different government subsidies are causing the true cost of gasohol to be hidden from customers, the hidden costs are being paid indirectly by the nation’s taxpayers.
Because the effect of gasohol on automobiles is highly dependent on engine design and calibration, there is a wide variety of data on how gasohol alters vehicle performance. Older, richly calibrated cars can exhibit improved fuel economy and lower exhaust emissions due to the mixture enleanment caused by the blending of ethanol into gasoline. However, late model automobiles experience reduced fuel economy and mixed exhaust emissions impacts when gasohol is used. The principal environmental impact of gasohol is the substantially increased evaporative emissions which are experienced by most vehicles.
The authors advocate reevaluation of the government’s commitment to gasohol and increased governmental support for using the nonrenewable resources needed for gasohol production on the production of synthetic gasoline and diesel fuel, and methanol, all of which are projected to be less expensive and more energy efficient fuels.
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Austin, T., and Rubenstein, G., "Gasohol: Technical, Economic, or Political Panacea?," SAE Technical Paper 800891, 1980,
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Aug 1, 1980
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Content Type
Technical Paper