Minden Press-Herald

Oct 01st

Corn crops in the tank

DSC_0063When ethanol is added to gas, is gas mileage subtracted?

Whole corn, creamed corn, corn on the cob and popcorn are all enjoyed by many as common household foods.

But one local resident is not too happy about any kind of corn being in his gasoline.

Now it may be his only choice.

It seems ethanol, an alcohol-based fuel made by fermenting and distilling starch crops, such as corn, is being added to the gasoline supply in north Louisiana. Non-ethanol gasoline is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

For Minden resident David Dumas, that is a problem.

Dumas, a traveling man, who puts several thousand miles a year on his vehicle, said he makes it a point to keep up with his gas usage and his vehicle performance.

"I'm one of these that put 42,000 to 45,000 miles on a vehicle a year," Dumas said. "I buy a lot of gas, so I know when my performance is good, when it is halfway good, and when it is not so good."

There are two types of ethanol, according to www.fueleconomy.gov: E10 (also known as "gasohol") and E85.

E10 is a blend of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline and sold in many parts of the country.

E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, can be used in flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs), which are specially designed to run on gasoline, E85, or any mixture of the two.

All auto manufacturers approve the use of blends of 10 percent ethanol or less in their gasoline vehicles. However, vehicles will typically go three to four percent fewer miles per gallon on E10 than on straight gasoline.

As executive vice president of a construction company, when Dumas is not flying to a job site or meeting, he is driving his Suburban all over the state.

At approximately 10 months into ownership of his 2009 Suburban, Dumas said he saw a noticeable change in performance and gas mileage.

"When my vehicle reached about 17-to-19,000 miles I realized that there was something drastically going wrong with my mileage and my power consumption from the first eight or 10,000 miles I had put on it," he said.

The realization of trouble got his attention and Dumas began an investigation of sorts.

"I started checking in to where I was buying my day-to-day or weekly gasoline in north Louisiana around the Minden and Shreveport area," he said. "I don't mind telling you, my Suburban gets about 17.5 to about 18.2 miles to the gallon with regular gas and when I am forced into buying ethanol, my gas mileage drops from anywhere from three to four miles per gallon."

Dumas' research led to a surprising discovery.

"I found out that the gas station I was buying from was sort of breaking the law by not having the ethanol stickers on the pumps," he said.

All along, Dumas thought he was pumping what he calls "pure gas" but it was ethanol going into his tank instead.

"It caused me to have to carry my Suburban back under warranty to the dealership several times," said Dumas.

According to Dumas, the mechanic was uncertain why his Suburban was not performing well.

"He couldn't answer what was actually going on because my vehicle was designed to run the E85 flex fuel," Dumas said.

Dumas said he changed gas stations and, "I got my vehicle finally corrected after about 6-to-7,000 miles of putting regular gas in it and getting off the ethanol."

Trying to run only "pure gas" in his vehicle, Dumas, who learned his current provider was making the switch to all ethanol so he said, "I quickly dropped them and went straight back to Mike Waller, but I was told just last week that Waller is going to have to convert his (fuel) over to ethanol."

The idea behind the use of ethanol is appealing: to reduce the dependence upon foreign oil and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by replacing it with home-grown, all-American corn. That philosophy is understandable to Dumas.

"But what does not make sense is even though they are selling the ethanol combination mixed with gas, you have to burn fossil fuels to make ethanol and then add the ethanol to the gasoline, so what are you accomplishing?"

In an effort to adjust to changing times, Dumas has started putting an additive into his ethanol-infused gas

"I really think the additive – even though it's costing me more money – may be helping a little bit," he said. "We will see."

Waller, a local fuel distributer, said his company resisted the change as long as possible.

"If it were not for government subsidies and government mandates, ethanol would go away," Waller said.

As of the first part of August, he lost the last terminal in north Louisiana from which he can pull "conventional gas."

"There is no place to buy conventional gasoline and the reason is simple," Waller said, "The government mandates that 15 percent of all the gasoline sold by refiners has ethanol in it."

Waller said the government will enforce its mandates one way or another, and this one is happening due to storage issues.

"These big terminals have large storage tanks that hold several million gallons of gasoline, but they don't have enough storage to stock a tank of ethanol and gasoline," he said. "Nor can they afford to store two unleaded products."

Keith McClung, mechanic and owner of McClung's Service Station Inc., said so far he has not seen any problems caused by ethanol.

"I have heard a lot of people complain that they don't get as good of gas mileage," he said.

Short shelf life is the problem with ethanol and small engines, according to Mike Elshout of Mike's Outdoor.

"Most people buy gasoline and let it stay in their lawnmowers or in a gas can for quite some time, but with ethanol no more than 30 days is possible," said Elshout, who repairs motorcycles and small engines.

"Briggs and Stratton and Kawasaki had to change some of the components in their carborators because the ethanol swells, and it causes it to stick which causes it to flood."






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