Is That an Ethanol SUV?
December 4, 2002 11:36 AM   Subscribe

Is That an Ethanol SUV? I recently found out that some of the most popular SUVs (Suburban, Yukon, Tahoe, Explorer) are already capable of running completely on Ethanol (E85). The National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition website has lists of cars and SUVs that already run on Ethanol. A handy map of refueling locations is also available. It is surprising (and good) to see the large auto-makers tangibly supporting alternative fuels.
posted by jsonic (23 comments total)
Lazy me, I didn't read the site and maybe I'm out of left field but isn't it true that ethanol uses more energy to produce than it puts out?
posted by squidman at 11:39 AM on December 4, 2002

... its raison d'etre being another way to subsidize farmers...
posted by squidman at 11:45 AM on December 4, 2002

Definately true Squidman. Ethanol also puts out carbon when burned, so its doesn't do much to reduce greenhouse gases. However, its does put out far less of the nasty side gases and particulate matter that buring gasoline or diesel does.

What ethanol does do is two things:

1) Its produced domestically, and therefore could potentially lower fuel imports.

2) Even though producing ethanol requires more energy than it consumes, the process can still on the whole be environmentally beneficial (though there are much better alternatives out there.) If the primary energy source used to create the ethanol is clean and renewable (such as a hydroelectric or solar power) you could argue that it is worth the extra energy to produce a transportation fuel that does not produce massive amounts of soot and toxic chemcials when burned.

However, ethanol currently does not serve such a purpose. It subsidizes Iowa and much of the midwest instead, which are key states in presidential politics.
posted by pjgulliver at 11:50 AM on December 4, 2002

I wanted to look at the FAQ, but it wanted a username and password.... How do you promote a product when the frequently asked questions are behind lock and key?
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 11:51 AM on December 4, 2002

About how much does a gallon of Ethanol go for nowadays?
posted by MattS at 11:52 AM on December 4, 2002

An SUV thread!

Wouldn't it be cheaper and safer to fill the SUV drivers with ethanol?
posted by websavvy at 11:54 AM on December 4, 2002

6,000 lb, 13mpg ... who cares what fuel it's using?
posted by Fabulon7 at 11:59 AM on December 4, 2002

What ethanol does do is two things

Also Add:

3.) Semi-closed carbon cycle. The crops used to produce the fuel sucked carbon out of the atmosphere (not all that is produced during combustion however).

4.) "Ethanol also degrades quickly in water and, therefore, poses much less risk to the environment than an oil or gasoline spill."
posted by jsonic at 11:59 AM on December 4, 2002

Here's a working link to the FAQ.

It looks like there's a pump in my city. I wonder what will happen when I fill my non-FFV car up with it!
posted by zsazsa at 12:00 PM on December 4, 2002

6,000 lb, 13mpg ... who cares what fuel it's using?

The SUV issue will not change overnight. This, however, is a step in the right direction. Especially since existing cars can use it.
posted by jsonic at 12:01 PM on December 4, 2002

Cost of Ethanol production (scroll down a bit):

In college, we converted a geo metro engine to run on ethanol. The only thing you really need to do is change the compression ratios. Didn't South America have issues with ethanol fuel causing formaldahyde to hang in the air in big cities?
posted by jonah at 12:01 PM on December 4, 2002

Alright, now this is the kind of useful, interesting banter I come to MeFi for (dispite the fact that I'm probably in a 2% minority when it comes to ideology).
posted by squidman at 12:05 PM on December 4, 2002

How many people could be fed from the corn used to power one SUV to the store and back?

There are biomass digesters which take virtually no energy to run and have three products, etanol, methane gas (both good fuel) and a nutrient rich sludge which would make a nice fertilizer, of course you have to feed them potential food products for the most part.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:07 PM on December 4, 2002

Here's the Top 10 Myths about Ethanol (from the American Coalition for Ethanol). Their response to the claim that it takes more energy to produce ethanol than you get out:

The widely touted, and tragically flawed Cornell University Study has been discredited in numerous ways. For one, many of the assumptions made in the study have been shown to be inaccurate. For example, the study uses numbers that portray all the corn grown in the United States as having come from irrigated fields. In reality, only 15% of the corn grown in the United States is grown under irrigation. Secondly, many other credible studies show that there is much more energy in a gallon of ethanol than it takes to produce it, including a benchmark study by the United States Department of Agriculture. Copies of those studies can be found at the American Coalition for Ethanol website (
posted by jonah at 12:07 PM on December 4, 2002

I've been seeing the Natural Gas Ford Expeditions all over Central Park in NYC. A quick google says it is part of a 3-year demo program to see how well the vehicles perform. Would love to see some side-by-side comparisons.
posted by mad at 12:07 PM on December 4, 2002

According to Michael Pollan it takes 1.2 gallons of oil to produce the chemical fertilizer used to grow a bushel of corn. Occording to these guys one bushel of corn produces about 2.7 gallons of ethanol (along with 11.4 pounds of gluten feed (20% protein) and 3 pounds of gluten meal (60% protein) and 1.6 pounds of corn oil). So it takes 1.2 gallons of oil to produce 2.7 gallons of ethanol? Maybe ethanol pumps will need a "Certified Organic" seal...
posted by gwint at 12:33 PM on December 4, 2002

Gasoline is still the most efficient fuel for running an automobile. Any fuels tend to lose their environmental impact advantages when the vehicle is run under an open loop condition, as occurs when emergency acceleration is necessary (passing a truck, etc). Gasoline produces more acceleration power in closed loop conditions, and the computer doesn't need to turn off environmental safeguards as quickly. CNG vehicles go into open loop at the drop of a hat since it's impossible to get any acceleration out of it at normal compression/ stoichiometric ratios.

I'm not sure what ethanol does to the mix. I'm guessing it still doesn't match up to gasoline on the efficiency side. May be a good storage medium for energy, though, if it can be created by renewable resources. Just got to watch those hydrocarbons and particulates.

This is all half out of my butt, since I worked briefly on hardware that measured emissions. Just the little I've learned.
posted by askheaves at 12:33 PM on December 4, 2002

What about other biomass derivatives, methanol or the alcohol derived from digestion of manure for example? Anybody got any stats on the production of that stuff? I'm just disturbed by the use of potential food as fuel, seems mighty ostentatious, like lighting cigars with $20 bills!
posted by Pollomacho at 1:01 PM on December 4, 2002

I'm not sure what ethanol does to the mix. I'm guessing it still doesn't match up to gasoline on the efficiency side.

In my flex fuel Taurus at least, ethanol is much less efficient, and thus makes putting E85 in the car prohibitively costly over the course of a year.
posted by iceberg273 at 1:06 PM on December 4, 2002

"I'm just disturbed by the use of potential food as fuel"

It's ethanol: Not only potential food, but potential beer!
posted by MarquisDeShad at 1:09 PM on December 4, 2002

The true political story of why these SUV's are built to run on ethanol is this:

By building pickup trucks and minivans that can run on ethanol as well as gasoline, automakers plan to win credits from the government that will allow them to build more gas-guzzling light trucks -- even if buyers of the special vehicles never use ethanol, a type of alcohol made from grain and extremely rare at filling stations.
[source: NYT, November 1997]

Those credits were passed into law by Congress in 1988. Ethanol design in these SUV's is nothing but a scheme.
posted by Zurishaddai at 4:23 PM on December 4, 2002

Every plan is alternately a scheme. Of course they have other reasons for doing what they do; do you only trust something that disenfranchises the auto industry?
posted by Lord Chancellor at 6:57 PM on December 4, 2002

It's not a question of trust or distrust of an alternate fuel technology. I don't address the merits of powering vehicles with ethanol. But the fact that the actual production vehicles are designed so that you can run 'em on ethanol is, I assert, 100% attributable to these credits. Ockham's Razor: the existence of any other motive for this actual production decision is unnecessary and extremely unlikely.
posted by Zurishaddai at 12:42 PM on December 5, 2002

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