Ethanol FAQs


What are the advantages to using ethanol blended fuels?

Ethanol is a renewable fuel. Gasoline is a fossil fuel. Using Ethanol will mean your engine will burn cleaner. Ethanol use will lower carbon dioxide emissions, ensuring a cleaner environment. Manitoba will be less dependent on imported gasoline. There will be more economic opportunities for rural Manitoba, not to mention improved farm incomes.

Will the use of ethanol void my car’s warranty?

Certainly not! When the use of ethanol began in 1979, most automobile manufacturers did not even address alcohol fuels. As soon as each manufacturer tested their vehicles, they approved the use of a 10% ethanol blend. Today, all manufacturers approve the use of 10% ethanol blends, and some even recommend ethanol use for environmental reasons. Many manufacturers do recommend against the use of methanol.

Will ethanol work in fuel-injected engines?

Absolutely! Ethanol never contributed to burning or fouling of port fuel injectors. Fuel injectors are manufactured to very exact tolerances, so it takes a very small amount of deposits to affect the efficiency of an injector. Components of gasoline, such as olefins, have been identified as causing deposits that result in fouled injectors. Since 1985, all ethanol blends and nearly all non-ethanol gasoline’s have contained corrosion inhibitors and detergent additives that are designed to prevent injector deposits. These detergents have been very effective in alleviating this gasoline problem.

If I use ethanol, do I need a gas line anti-freeze?

No! Gas line anti-freeze is alcohol – usually methanol, ethanol, or isopropyl, which may be used up to a .3% level in your car’s fuel tank. All alcohols have the ability to absorb water, and therefore condensation in the fuel system is absorbed and does not have the opportunity to collect and freeze. Since an ethanol blend contains up to 10% ethanol, it is able to absorb more water than a small bottle of methyl or isopropyl alcohol, therefore eliminating the need and expense of adding a gas line anti-freeze.

Won’t ethanol burn valves?

Ethanol will not burn valves. Ethanol burns cooler than gasoline. Many high-powered racing engines use pure alcohol for that reason.

Will ethanol hurt my older engine designed for leaded gas?

No. The concern about older engines came about because of the lead phase-out. Lead oxides that were formed during combustion provided a cushion that reduced wear on non-case-hardened "popet" style valve seats. Therefore, it is the absence of lead, not the presence of ethanol, that is of concern.

Does ethanol lead to plugged fuel filters?

Ethanol can loosen contaminants and residues that have been deposited by previous gasoline fills. These can collect in the fuel filter. This problem has happened occasionally in older cars, and can easily be corrected by changing fuel filters. Symptoms of a plugged fuel filter will be hesitation, missing, and a loss of power. Once your car’s fuel system is clean, you may note improved performance.

Why do some mechanics say not to use ethanol?

A mechanic who says not to use ethanol does not have correct information. About the only thing most people (including many mechanics) know about gasoline is that some of it is blended with ethanol. When there appears to be a fuel-related problem with an engine, some mechanics will immediately ask if ethanol has been used. One reason ethanol is suspected is that in many jurisdictions it is the only gasoline component that requires an identifying label.

Can I use ethanol in my ATV and chainsaw?

Yes. An ethanol blend may be used anywhere that unleaded gasoline is used.

If ethanol can be used in outboard motors, why do some of the owner’s manuals say not to use it?

When these cautionary statements were first put in the owners manuals, there was confusion with methanol, and also a concern about the quality control of ethanol, which was produced by a brand-new and rapidly growing industry. Since boats are usually in close proximity to water and often stored outside, there was concern about "phase separation" if the fuel was contaminated with excessive water. All marine motor manufacturers now approve the use of 10% ethanol blend.

What testing has been done with ethanol in small engines?

A number of tests have been done. One of them was done at the Lake Area Vo-Tech at Watertown, South Dakota; where they put a lifetime of use on seven different models of small utility equipment. They acquired matched sets of each of the seven models, and ran one on an ethanol blend and the other on an unleaded gasoline. After each test, each motor was torn down for laboratory analysis. The most significant difference was that the ethanol blend engines had slightly fewer carbon deposits. The Detroit Lakes Technical College at Detroit Lakes, Minnesota studied the "Hydroscopic effects of a marine environment on ethanol blended gasoline", and concluded that the amount of water an ethanol blended gasoline", and concluded that the amount of water an ethanol blend will absorb from the atmosphere is minimal, and should not be a concern.

What is phase separation?

When a 10% ethanol blend is contaminated with over .5% water, the ethanol and water mixture will separate from the gasoline and fall to the bottom of the gas tank. This is an inconvenience, because the fuel system must then be drained and new fuel added. Before using ethanol-blended fuel for the first time in an older small engine, it is recommended that all water be removed from the tank. Since many outboard motor carburetor problems result from water in the fuel system, continuous use of an ethanol blend can prevent water accumulation and unnecessary maintenance.

Will two-cycle oil separate from an ethanol-blended gasoline?

No, once properly mixed, all approved two-cycle oils will remain in solution with an ethanol-blended gasoline.

Does ethanol make gasoline go bad in storage?

No! Storage problems are primarily caused by the storage conditions and the chemical composition of the gasoline itself. Whether you use ethanol blends or not, avoid carrying gasoline over from one season to the next. Don’t fill a storage tank at the end of the season. Try to run the tank dry in your seasonal equipment before it is time for storage.

Is ethanol-blended gasoline more costly than petroleum gasoline?

No! Ethanol-blended gasoline is generally available to marketers at a lower cost than petroleum gasoline (petro-gas) of the same octane. After the federal and provincial ethanol tax credit is applied, the cost of ethanol to marketers is about the same as Regular Unleaded gasoline and often less. Ethanol is relatively inexpensive to blenders and can increase the octane value of gasoline considerably.

Octane is a measure of gasoline’s resistance to burn prematurely under high compression causing an engine to "knock" or "ping" under load. For many years gasoline quality, and therefore its price, has been expressed in terms of its octane or "anti knock" rating. "The higher the octane the higher the price." In some markets ethanol is found only in high octane (higher priced) gasoline. This made some people think ethanol blends were more expensive.

In most markets the standard grade of gasoline "regular unleaded" has an octane rating of 87. Mid-grade gasoline sometimes called "Unleaded Plus" (89 to 90 octane) and Premium (91 or higher octane) are usually offered at wholesale and retail outlets for a higher price than Regular Unleaded. The wholesale price per liter of Premium or Unleaded Plus (89-90 octane) gasoline may be 3¢ to 5¢ higher than Regular Unleaded.

The standard "blending octane value" for ethanol is about 113. Normally one liter of ethanol blended with 9 liters of petro-gas raises the octane of the 10-litre blend to the next grade level. For instance after blending 9 liters of petro-gas with one liter of ethanol, Regular Unleaded (87 octane) becomes Unleaded Plus (89-90 octane) and Unleaded Plus becomes Premium (91+ octane). Consequently, marketers can often buy 89-90 octane Unleaded Plus ethanol blended gasoline for the same price, or less than they would have to pay for 87 octane Regular Unleaded petro-gas. In order to produce Regular Unleaded gasoline with ethanol, a blender must have access to an 84.5 octane (or "sub-octane") grade of petro-gas. In some markets sub octane gasoline is not made available to blenders. In these locations, Regular Unleaded (the lowest price grade gasoline with the highest sales volume) does not contain ethanol. In markets where sub octane gasoline is available, however, ethanol blended Regular is usually less costly than petro-gas Regular.

The factors discussed above may not be apparent to consumers or even to some retailers. But contrary to a common rumor, ethanol blended gasoline (where available) is almost always less costly than petro-gas of the same octane.

If the price of corn goes up, will ethanol become non-competitive with gasoline?

Wheat prices and corn prices can be volatile. Periods when wheat prices drove ethanol prices significantly higher than gasoline have been very short and rare. Distiller’s grains and gluten feed are high-protein feeds that are the co-products remaining when the starch portion of the wheat kernel is made into ethanol. Therefore, when the price of wheat is high, a greater portion of the processors’ costs can be recovered through the sale of protein feeds. Unusual factors, such as drought or flood, could have short-term implications for the ethanol industry.

Will ethanol ever be produced as cheaply as gasoline?

Yes, but ethanol should be compared with other high-octane components of gasoline, rather than with gasoline as a whole. In fact, technology is constantly reducing the environmental and monetary cost of ethanol production. Since ethanol reduces exhaust emissions from cars, and is a domestically produced, renewable fuel it provides benefits that gasoline never can. According to recent studies the petroleum industry has enjoyed many years of large tax breaks and subsidies. Studies also suggest that costs of air and water pollution should be attributed to the overall cost of gasoline. On the other hand, wheat and ethanol production is becoming more efficient and less energy intensive each year. When the conversion of cellulose to ethanol is perfected the cost of ethanol production is expected to decline drastically. Perennial fiber crops and solid waste will then be used to produce ethanol.

How much will the use of ethanol help the price of Grain?

There have been numerous studies done, in the U.S., on this issue, and the consensus is that, in the case of corn, the price of corn will increase from 6¢ to 8¢ per bushel for every 100 million bushels of corn used.

Shouldn’t we be using Corn for food instead of fuel?

Canada has a surplus of grain. Today, many farmers are loosing their businesses because large surpluses lead to low crop prices. World hunger is more the result of politics and policies, than a shortage of food. In ethanol production only the starch portion of the kernel is converted to ethanol. What remains is put back into the food chain (Distillious Grain (DDG)). Much of the world’s population suffers from protein and vitamin deficiencies. Many people suffer from hunger not because there isn’t enough food, but because of economic, political and transportation barriers. The development of renewable energy sources like ethanol can make energy more available to remote areas of the world. That should make it easier to get food to isolated people.

Are the major oil companies against the use of ethanol as a fuel?

Some are, because ethanol is domestic, renewable and a direct competitor to the imported non-renewable crude oil used to make gasoline. However, the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute, which represents the refiners has stated it is neither for nor against ethanol blends.

Are most gas station managers informed about gasoline composition?

No, most of them are business people, concerned more with the daily problems and challenges of operating a business rather than the chemistry of gasoline.

Will ethanol ever be blended at levels more than 10%?

Brazil sells a 22% ethanol blend instead of 10% as a means to extend their gasoline supplies. While most cars produced today would operate on a 22% blend, testing by the auto manufacturers would occur before any new fuel formulation could be approved and covered under their warranties.

What are potential new markets for ethanol?

Ethanol is replacing some methanol in the windshield washing formula for automobiles and is also being used in the formulation of various household cleaners. As these products become more widespread they can help reduce the amount of toxic chemicals in domestic use. Fuel ethanol may become a common fuel for small aircraft since airplanes need a low volatility, high octane fuel to replace leaded "aviation gas". Other markets for both ethanol and the co-products from processing are sure to follow.

How does the use of ethanol-blended fuel benefit the environment?

The environmentally beneficial attributes of ethanol-blended gasoline have resulted in its designation as an "Environmental ChoiceTM" product.

Gasoline blended with 10% ethanol will reduce carbon monoxide (CO) emissions by up to 30%. Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas that contributes to air pollution. It is of particular concern when vehicles are operating at lower temperatures. Oxygenated gasoline, such as ethanol blends, lower the levels of CO emitted, by promoting a more complete combustion of the fuel.

Gasoline blended with 10% ethanol will reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) entering the atmosphere between 4 and 7%. Carbon dioxide is a normal product of burning fuels that contribute to global warming. More CO2 is absorbed by crop growth than is released by manufacturing and using ethanol.

Does an ethanol blend burn cleaner than a premium gasoline?

Many premium gasolines’s are ethanol blends. If gasoline contains oxygen it will burn cleaner than a non-ethanol gasoline. Premium gasoline is no cleaner than gasoline of a lower octane.

What is the difference between ethanol and methanol?

They are both alcohols. Ethanol is fermented alcohol, also used as beverage alcohol, made primarily from grain but may also be made from starch or sugar from potatoes, cheese whey, sugar beets or even from the cellulose in forest products or waste paper. Methanol is usually made from natural gas or coal, and is also known as "wood alcohol". Methanol is highly corrosive, more volatile than ethanol, and can be damaging to plastic and rubber fuel system components (elastomers).

What are ETBE and MTBE?

Ethyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (ETBE) and methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE) are both high octane, low volatility ethers. They are made by combining alcohol with isobutylene from oil refineries. MTBE was preferred by major oil companies and has been the largest selling oxygenate in the world while ethanol is second. Recently, MTBE has received a great deal of negative publicity because of water contamination problems in areas where it is used. MTBE has been banned in California and Iowa. The future use of either for oxygenates in gasoline is uncertain.

Why don’t we use 100% ethanol, instead of a 10% blend?

Brazil was able to operate nearly half of its cars on fuel ethanol, but it would be neither necessary nor practical to do it here at this time. Most engines need modification to run on pure ethanol and cold starting would be a problem. Fortunately, a 10% level requires no engine modification, yet still makes significant immediate contributions to carbon monoxide reduction.

Do we need the high-octane gasoline that the major oil companies are promoting

An octane number is a measure of gasoline’s ability to resist pre-ignition, also known as "knocking" or "pinging." If your vehicle doesn’t "ping" or "knock" or if the manufacturer doesn’t specifically require a higher octane, then regular or "87" octane is all you need. A higher-octane gasoline will not reduce pollution or contribute to increased power or mileage. Since fewer liters of high-octane gasoline than low octane gasoline can be made from a barrel of crude oil it is actually wasteful to use unnecessary octane.

Does an ethanol blend require special handling?

Only in special circumstances. The gasoline marketer should pump any accumulated water from the storage tank, and add a final filter to the dispensing hose before using an ethanol blend for the first time. Since seasonally used small engines such as chainsaws and outboard motors are susceptible to water contamination, it is also wise to check them for the presence of water and remove all water before adding an ethanol blend. These precautions are nothing more than good housekeeping practices, but adhering to them will assure optimum performance of an ethanol blend.

What about moisture in ethanol blends?

Moisture contamination usually is not a problem until water "phase separates" from the gasoline and falls to the bottom of the tank. Ethanol blends do not draw more water into the tank. If gasoline must be stored, be sure the container has no "water bottom" and is water tight. Keeping the tank full or sheltered from weather will minimize "breathing" and condensation on tank walls. In most tanks it would take more than a year for conventional gasoline to draw enough moisture from the air to "phase separate", much longer for ethanol blends. The most common causes of water contamination problems are introducing ethanol blends into a tank with a water bottom and faulty tanks or covers that allow water to flow into the fuel

“By reducing our dependence of foreign oil and increasing alternative energy sources such as ethanol, we can begin to bring down prices at the pumps, create thousands of new jobs and bring a much needed boost to our economy.”
- Congressman Jim Ryun