Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The great gass MPG challenge part 2!!!

I've been using non-ethanol gas now for about 5 weeks and have some numbers to share. Let me first say that I was surprised by the results. I hoped to see some difference but really was afraid the numbers would be so close it would be hard to tell. Well, the difference is pretty obvious.

The difference in MPG since switching to non-ethanol gas has been 1.15 MPG (data). It may not sound like much, but lets take a look at the numbers based on this.

Cost Considerations
In Omaha 10% ethanol blend gas cost $0.10 cheaper per gallon. So for 10 gallons of gas it costs me $1.00 more to non-ethanol regardless of the current price (assuming constant $0.10 difference).

Ethanol BlendNo Ethanol
CostX - $1.00X
Miles driven241.9253.4
Gallons needed to make up difference0.4750

So I need an additional 0.475 gallons of 10% Ethanol blend gas to go the same distance as ethanol free gas. The costs of this additional gas breaks down below at various prices.

At $4.00/gallon = $1.90 - I save $0.90 per 10 gallons of gas
At $3.50/gallon = $1.66 - I save $0.66 per 10 gallons of gas
At $3.00/gallon = $1.43 - I save $0.43 per 10 gallons of gas
At $2.50/gallon = $1.18 - I save $0.18 per 10 gallons of gas
At $2.11/gallon = $1.00 - I break even, same cost for either gas

Since it cost me an extra $1.00 in the first place, my break even point is when gas is at $2.11/gallon. Below this price is costs me less to use 10% ethanol blend. Above it I save money by using ethanol free gas.

Amount of gas SAVED by using Ethanol

It's not just about saving money. There is also this added notion that by using Ethanol we use less oil from other countries when we do so. Ideally you'd say we use 10% less oil by using the blended gas.
Not so fast..... As I just pointed out from my testing you need 0.475 more gallons of ethanol blend to go the same distance. If you want to get picky, it is really 0.428 more gallons (0.90 x 0.475).

This means instead of using 10% less gas with Ethanol blend, we are only using 5.7% less. Now the bigger question is how much gas (oil) was needed to produce and refine the Ethanol? Are we really saving anything or just helping our corn growers by giving them another market?

Environmental Impact - emissions
No hard numbers here but consider this..... I've heard it touted that by using 10% ethanol blend it cuts down on emissions from cars. Maybe true, but by how much? As I already pointed out 10% blend does not mean 10% less gas. It means 5.7% less.

It means filling up more often though too!!! Have you ever been to California where they have the extra things on the nozzle to prevent fumes from escaping? I'm guessing it is a pollution thing. So the more times we fill up, the more chances of polluting.

What I am going to do?
I support the farmers, especially since I live in the corn belt. I have used Ethanol blended gas for the 23 years that I have driven. As an additive that provided a small extra market for corn I think it was OK; not necessarily a plus or minus in terms of oil use. But now that we are seeing it pushed as a big scale solution, I'm not on board. Based on my numbers I don't see it as a solution at all and more likely a detractor from finding a real solution.

Unless.... IF E85 (85% Ethanol blend gas) can be produces without needing oil (use Bio Diesel maybe?); and if we can produce enough crops to utilize it, then Ethanol might be workable. But from everything I've seen we can't produce enough corn or whatever crop to do this and we currently burn a ton of oil to produce it; some even say we use more oil producing ethanol than we save.

So, I am going to stick with using ethanol free gas as long as the price stays above $2.00. And I am going to do everything I can to support and push for new energy alternatives. I'd love to drive an electric or fuel cell powered car to work. But, where in the heck to I find one right now..... (and how do I pay for it?)