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Let’s ask a Chemist about Gas and Discuss Ethanol

The one topic of debate that comes up more often than any other is gas prices. They’re high, get used to it. Let’s ask a chemist about fuel and discuss why ethanol sucks.

It’s a topic that used to be a short discussion. “How can I spend less on gasoline?” The short answer used to be “Make sure you’re buying 100% gasoline.” But it’s not that easy these days. Currently, there is a law on the books that encourages refineries to produce E10 (gasoline with 10% ethanol) at the point of sale.

Is it mandatory? Sort of. Just like any law, there are loop-holes. Just like anything else the gov does, you can buy your way out of legislation in the form of “credits.” It’s a dirty way the government runs a legalized racket on the sale of goods, and the way companies pass that cost along to us.

The refinery in my hometown sold 100% gasoline for a while last year, but they managed to spend half a billion dollars on government credits in the first six months. Seeing how the E10 can add a billion dollars a year back to the bottom line, you’d start selling it too.

That’s ok… It’s good for the environment right? No. It looks good on paper, and it’s sold to the public that way too, but it’s not. Let’s set that record straight.

On average, your vehicle will take a 10% hit on fuel economy just by fueling up with E10. That’s a fact. It’s because ethanol doesn’t produce energy as well as gasoline does… and by a pretty large margin.

Let’s say you hop in identical cars. One fueled with 100% ethanol, one fueled on 100% gasoline. On the same amount fuel you can drive an ethanol car 100 miles, you could drive around 150 miles on gasoline. That is to say gasoline makes about 35% more energy per unit than ethanol does.

In short, you’re literally buying the exact same amount of gasoline at the pump… but the E10 actually costs you 10% more.

 

So, buying 100% gasoline is how you can save at the pump right? Still, no. Well, yes if you can find it. Due to the ethanol credit cost, most refineries sell E10 to the people that deliver fuel to the gas stations.

You might be saying “The station I fill up at has a big sign out front that says it’s 100% gas.” Well, that could be true, but chances are it’s a lie. We’re not only talking about law, but billions of dollars here. The key is to look on the pump. It’s required by law that if a station sells 10% ethanol fuel (E10) then they have to post it on the pump.

Most chain stations, ie – Stripes, EZ-GO, Love’s, ect… will obey those laws and post on their pumps that their fuel “may contain up to 10% ethanol.” There’s a pretty big fine that goes along with breaking that law, so the legit companies obey it to the T. It’s the smaller, independent stations that normally fib about their gas.

So, chances are, you can’t actually get 100% gas. Still, there are ways to get more out of your fuel, and save money in the process.

You can slow down a little bit. I drive a big crew cab truck with a 6.0 liter gas hog V-8 in it. Still, if I hit the highway between here and Hollis doing 60mph, I’ll get about 20 miles per gallon. Which doesn’t sound like much… but when I drive 70, I get around 12mpg. That 10 miles per hour makes a huge difference.

 

The other thing you can do to make that fuel last longer is this. Buy better gas.

You ever wonder why some fuel brands are cheaper than others? It’s not because they sell more, so they can pass any savings on to you. There is no “bulk” discount in fuel. Cheaper gas is cheap gas.

Yes, chances are all the fuel in this town comes from the same refinery. What makes them all different is “additive package.” It’s a unique chemical compound that can help keep engines clean, and maximize the economy. Each brand has their own patented package that they add to a universally standardized base fuel. Cheaper fuels use little, or no additive package at all.

 

So, the next question would be “Which fuel has the best additive package?” and that’s a tough question I can’t answer. Not because I don’t have an opinion about it, I do… I just don’t have the scientific background to give a correct answer..

So I passed that question along to a chemist. But not just any chemist… I asked the guy that tests the fuel for Air Force One when it passes through this region of the country… Yeah, he knows his stuff.

One condition of him answering these questions was anonymity. He doesn’t want to catch any flack, and you’ll see why below…

When asked “Who makes the best fuel for any vehicle?” his answer to me was surprising. He said “Texaco/Shell probably has the best fuel on the market. I’d try to buy Conoco/Phillips66 if you can’t find Shell.” (His words, not mine… don’t flame the messenger)

I found that pretty surprising because the company he works for isn’t the company he recommended as the “best” fuel. So I asked him more questions about different brands during the short amount of time I spent with him on the phone.

The gist of it was this… A single tank of any fuel probably won’t hurt your car too much, but always try to buy good gas.

Does that mean that 100% gasoline is the best fuel you can buy? Again… No. Diesel is a far better fuel than gasoline in terms of economy… but we’ll save that for another day.

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