Jay Leno Discusses Ethanol


Anyone with an appreciation for Classic cars, undoubtedly knows who Jay Leno is and why. Based on the numerous published accolades, his knowledge level of Classic cars is noticeably significant. In addition to his wildly popular YouTube videos, he also writes articles for various automotive publications. That is where this story starts. We became aware of the two associated items via our internal search efforts.
The first article, entitled "Can't We Just Get Rid of Ethanol", was recently published by Autoweek. Jay discussed the effects of ethanol on the fuel systems of Classic cars and why it can quickly lead to disaster. The article included some experiences with the corrosive effects of ethanol and warnings for people in the Collector car community:

"Last week, I went to start up one of my Duesenbergs. When I pulled out of the spot where it had been parked for about a month, I saw a huge pool of gas. I looked at it while it was running and saw gas just pouring out."

Jay reminded people to inspect the fuel systems of their Classics to help owners identify components failing in a comparable manner.

...but with older cars, the worst can happen—you’re going down the road, and suddenly your car is on fire...

What is worse are the issues that are often hidden until it's too late, as discussed by one of our own readers. In conclusion, Jay debated the necessity of ethanol in today's fuel for a variety of reasons, noting both an up date to the EPA standards, in June of this year, and some legislators pushing to reform or eliminate the Renewable Fuel Standard entirely.


Before any of our readers go off on some rant about the environmental benefits of E10, please note the following:
  • We are discussing the effects on Classic cars, not your (2001 or later) daily driver, but even then there are issues
  • Please take the time to review authoritative information on the subject before jumping to conclusions
  • We are not making any kind of political statement
Some of the basic details regarding ethanol as an alternative fuel can be confusing, such as why fuel economy drops (-3% to -20%) and certain pollutants increase when using any ethanol based fuel mix. But these are not excessively critical to Collector cars, as most Classics are driven less than a few thousand miles per year.

The two big issues are the corrosive effects of the fuel itself and the additional engine damage that can occur from the resulting  too lean fuel mixture.

Fortunately, the EPA agrees:

 ...In 2007, the EPA admitted that increased use of ethanol in gasoline would increase emissions of key air pollutants, including volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, by as much as 7 percent...the agency again acknowledged that more ethanol consumption will mean higher emissions of key pollutants...

So do the Experts:
Donald Stedman, a professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Denver, has been studying ethanol’s impact on air quality for two decades. 

“More ethanol means worse air quality, period”...corn ethanol “doesn’t do anything to reduce greenhouse gases.” 

So Do Mileage Comparison Tests
Gas Result: From San Diego to Las Vegas and back, we used 36.5 gallons of regular gasoline and achieved an average fuel economy of 18.3 mpg.
Gas Cost: We spent $124.66 for gasoline for the trip. The average pump price was $3.42 per gallon.
E85 Result: From San Diego to Las Vegas and back we used 50 gallons of E85 and achieved an average fuel economy of 13.5 mpg.
E85 Cost: We spent $154.29 on E85 for the trip. The average pump price was $3.09 per gallon
Gas/E85 difference: The fuel economy of our Tahoe on E85, under these conditions, was 26.5 percent worse than it was when running on gas.  

Read the full Edmund's article

So Do Numerous Other Government Policies
In an attempt to determine if there were significant differences between the US and the UK, our closing effort was to review the UK's own government policy regarding the subject. This is what our search turned up:
The UK government says this need not mean that all pump fuel should contain biofuel, that is being left to the fuel supply and retail industries to decide. On the other hand, nor does UK government policy require that non-ethanol fuel should be widely available on forecourts. 
  • The Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs (FBHVC) have more information on the subject. 
  • The Department for Transport commissioned an independent report in to the effects of E10 on existing vehicles, the report recommended the following:
    • Vehicles ten years old or older, carburettored vehicles (including powered two wheelers) and first generation direct injection spark ignition vehicles should not be fueled on E10 unless the manufacturer can state the vehicles are compatible with E10.
    • Consideration should be given to maintaining a specification for E10 fuel for historic and vintage vehicles.
So Do Scientists
"Cornell agriculture professor David Pimentel argues that producing ethanol actually creates a net energy loss. His research shows that a gallon of ethanol contains 77,000 BTUs of energy for engines to burn but requires 131,000 BTUs to process into usable fuel, not including additional BTUs burned from fossil fuel sources to power the farm equipment to grow the corn, and the barges, trains and trucks used to transport it to refineries and ultimately fueling stations. "

Source -Autoweek
The final words from Jay were: "I also suggest you drain and clean your old car’s fuel tank, use a quality fuel-tank sealer that’s impervious to ethanol, replace fuel filters, keep all the screens clear and use a fuel stabilizer (added to a full fuel tank), if your car is to be stored for the winter season. Oh, and keep a fire extinguisher handy.

IS IT POSSIBLE TO BUY GASOLINE WITHOUT ETHANOL FOR MY CLASSICS? "Yes Virginia", there really is gasoline without ethanol in it. Read more here