The Great Ethanol Debate

Let me start by saying “I” believe that ethanol in fuel is a terrible idea, and that it can cause problems for some engines. But just how big is this problem?

For me, finding the answers to ethanol problems in gas is like proving the existence if a deity. If you are inclined to believe that there is a problem, then every issue you encounter provides you yet more proof that the problem exists. With the ethanol issue there are a lot of people with stories, third hand information, and suppositions, but there are few that I have found that can actually point to a problem and prove that it’s an ethanol issue. It certainly appears that ethanol can:

Some of the ethanol horror stories I have read go something like this:

“My chainsaw was ruined by ethanol and had to be thrown away. The small engine shop guy said he sees this all the time.” 

“My car got half the gas mileage with ethanol fuel.”

“Don’t use fuel more than 30 (or 14,10,5,…) days old.”

“I know a guy that put ethanol fuel in his airplane by mistake and the next day his wingtip tanks were so soft that you could put your finger right through them.”

“It takes more than a gallon of fuel to make a gallon of ethanol. That includes planting, fertilizing, harvesting, transporting, and processing. The only way that producers can make a profit is by receiving government aide.”

“The use of corn for ethanol has caused an increase in corn prices what effect feed prices, meat prices, and reduce the availability of grains for aide to third world countries.”

I’ve chatted about this subject in the past and made others extremely upset. They have accused me of being closed minded (not exactly their words!). They have asked me why I refuse to believe all the facts set out before me. They have asked how much more proof do I need. The problem is that I have seen very little of what I consider “proof”. Very little first hand information from people that can confirm it was ethanol and not something else that caused a problem.

Here’s what I can tell you about my own ethanol experience. I’ve been flying Rotax 2-cycle engines for the past 6 years, using 87 octane, 10% ethanol gas, mixed 50:1 with Pennzoil TC-W3 oil. During that time I have had issues with ignition timing (points worn) and carburetor jetting (used wrong chart for jet selection), but absolutely no problems that I can point to as being caused by ethanol. I use the same fuel in my weed whacker with no issues. I use the same fuel, without the 2-cycle oil of course, in my lawn mowers and snow blower. I do not drain the tanks at the end of the season, nor do I use Stabil, and yet they all start and run just fine. The only engine that gives me issues is a 50 year old Jacobsen reel mower that has a leaky carburetor. Did ethanol cause the carb seals to go bad? Maybe, but how would you know?

As I said in the beginning, I think ethanol in gas is a terrible idea, and I think it can cause problems in some situations, but I’m just not believing some of the “evidence” put forth showing ethanol problems. I’m sure that this debate will go on as long as we continue to screw up gas by contaminating it with food.