Ethanol Use In Gasoline Can Reduce Foreign Oil Imports

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The use of corn-produced ethanol in gasoline is an outdated method to lower greenhouse emissions while ethanol generated with natural gas yields a cleaner and cheaper fuel, experts said.

Corn-based ethanol is "definitely a failed and outdated attempt at lowering emissions," said Chris Faulkner, CEO of Breitling Energy, a Dallas oil and natural gas exploration and production company.

Many experts have said that a better alternative is to generate ethanol from natural gas, because it is better for the environment and could result in less engine problems.

"If the government is adamant that refiners must still blend gasoline with ethanol, we should at least be looking more seriously at ethanol generated with natural gas," he said. "It's cheaper than corn ethanol and would put a stop to the destruction of grasslands, wetlands and conservation lands."

The primary goal of the original ethanol requirement was to reduce imports of foreign oil, but since the production of drilling for natural gas is inexpensive, the commodity can fulfill that requirement, Faulkner said.

"Ethanol was an idea that sounded good, but hasn't lived up to expectations," he said. "Some experts have said that producing corn-based ethanol with the goal of blending it into gasoline to reduce greenhouse gas emissions actually creates more greenhouse gas emissions than simply using 100% gasoline."

Utilizing ethanol produced by natural gas is a better alternative since it is chemically identical to corn ethanol and yields the same level of emissions, Faulkner said.

Compressed natural gas (CNG) is a cleaner fuel, because there are 20% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and it is also in ample supply, he said. CNG produces less carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, non-methane organic gas and nitrogen oxide, which are dangerous to our health and the environment.

Straight gasoline is better than using gas containing ethanol blends, no matter what source is used to produce the ethanol, Faulkner said.

Natural gas runs cleaner than gasoline and can mean changing your car's oil less frequently, he said. Compressed natural gas vehicles also get better mileage while running on fuel that's cheaper than gasoline.

Ethanol has been added to gasoline since 1979, and most of today's gasoline is a mixture of 90% gasoline and 10% ethanol or E10. Ethanol used in a vehicle's fuel system causes rust and corrosion to form on the metal surfaces of the fuel tank and fuel lines, said Chris Barker, technical services manager for Royal Purple, a Porter, Texas synthetic products manufacturer. Small pieces of corrosion breaking away from surfaces can result in the clogging of fuel injectors/carburetors, resulting in reduced performance, hard starts and possible engine problems, he said.

"What you may not know is that the oxidation and emulsion effects of ethanol-containing fuel both begin from the moment the fuel is added to the car," Barker said. "This 'aeration effect' occurs as you are filling your tank, introducing copious amounts of oxygen and moisture from the air."

If the deposits are left untreated they become "hot spots" that promote detonation. To prevent this from occurring, modern cars with computer-controlled ignition systems must slow down the timing in the combustion chambers that can result in reduced performance, loss of horsepower and diminished fuel economy.

Owners can combat the problems caused by ethanol by replacing fuel system parts prone to breakdown from contact with ethanol such as rubber and plastic fuel lines and o-rings or by using a synthetic fuel system cleaner which can remove deposits or prevent emulsion and oxidation.

Primus Green Energy, an alternative fuel technology company based in Hillsborough, N.J., has developed a cleaner burning fuel which can be used as a drop-in fuel. Its proprietary syngas-to-gasoline plus technology produces drop-in liquid transportation fuels such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from syngas derived from natural gas and other feedstocks, which include biomass and municipal solid waste.

The company's cleaner-burning fuels can be used directly in vehicle engines and are expected to be sold to a major refinery in Texas this year. Refiners can use their fuel to blend with crude oil that contains higher levels of sulfur. Crude oil which contains higher levels of sulfur is cheaper for refiners to buy. Using a blend to reduce the amount of sulfur in the gasoline is a less expensive option than retrofitting a plant or buying more expensive crude oil with higher levels of sulfur, said George Boyajian, vice president of business development at Primus Green Energy.

Primus Green Energy said its 93-octane gasoline produces less carbon dioxide, has low amounts of benzene and contains no amounts of sulfur compared to traditional gasoline. Using a gasoline like Primus means engine parts in cars could last longer and reduce the amount of maintenance on them, he said.

"The gasoline produced from Primus is virtually indistinguishable from gasoline produced from fossil fuels and does not run into the 10% blend wall," he said. "Refiners and blenders can dilute it, too. Within their process they can make xylene and toluene as components, so it opens discussions about the chemicals and aromatics areas. So the gasoline needs no blend wall and can go directly into a tank or mixed at the refinery. If a refinery makes a higher off-spec fuel that has too much sulfur or benzene, they can use our gasoline to dilute it."

Primus is exploring the option to brand their fuel in the future so that consumers have more options to choose from, Boyajian said.

"Low cost natural gas is a real game changer in this business," he said.

--Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet

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