ETHANOL – GOOD OR BAD? – How it Works | SCIENCE GARAGE


(cars revving) – It’s the high-tech fuel used
in race cars and dragsters. And it comes from corn! Ethanol. (electronic whirring) That’s right, everybody. Today we’re doing a deep dive into one of my favorite biofuels
or fuel additives, ethanol. Ready to get down and
dirty on the bad stuff and the good stuff, and
we’re gonna get to the truth. Ethanol is basically ethyl alcohol, the same type of alcohol
found in alcoholic beverages. But it’s used as fuel. Wow. During production, starch
from the plants is fermented and distilled into sugars, which
microbes turn into ethanol. It’s the same way you make beer or vodka or moonshine, or, Eddie,
what’s your favorite drink? Appletinis. There’s a couple of ways
to make fuel grade ethanol, but the most common is
the dry mill method, which is the same as my
grandpappy’s White Lightning recipe. The grain passes through a grinding mill and comes out as a powder. A mixture made of this
grain powder, water, and an enzyme enters a high heat cooker. This enzyme converts
the starch into sugars that can be fermented to create alcohol. What’s an enzyme? Well it’s a protein that can take another chemical and change it. Your saliva’s got enzymes in it that do a very similar thing. Go eat a saltine. Just chew on it, like, forever. It gets sweet. – Trust the process. – Well, that’s the enzymes in your saliva turning the starches into sugars. But we’re making ethanol, so the yeast is added to the sugar mixture to begin the fermentation process. Yeast digests the sugar,
breaking it down into ethanol and carbon dioxide, then
a dehydration process removes the water from
the separated ethanol. Often, small amount of gasoline is added to the ethanol so that it’s non-potable. That doesn’t mean you
can’t carry it around. Means you can’t drink it. There’s a bunch of laws out there that say all the ethanol
that’s gonna be used as fuel has to be made so you can’t drink it. I don’t know, man. Sounds like a dare. Don’t drink it, you idiots. Then it’s mixed with petroleum, and the ethanol becomes fuel for your car. Making ethanol a major player in the fuel industry could
have serious drawbacks. It takes a lot of land to
make not a lot of corn ethanol and creating significant amounts of energy from food crops would
deplete the amount of land available for growing actual
food for people to eat. You know, how people like
to eat food that grows? Each acre of corn can yield about 328 gallons of corn ethanol. That’s a lot of corn
for not too much fuel, so it’s fine as a bridge
or a supplemental fuel, but it doesn’t make a lot
of sense as a primary fuel. Ethanol blended gas is labeled as E10, E15 and sometimes E85. The number after the E indicates the percentage of ethanol by volume. So E10 has up to 10% ethanol. All auto makers approve blends up to E10 in their gasoline vehicles. In 2011, the EPA began
allowing the use of E15 in model year 2001 in
newer gasoline vehicles. E85, also called flex fuel,
is an ethanol gasoline blend containing 51 to 85ish percent ethanol. E85 can be used in flex fuel vehicles, which are specifically
designed to run on gasoline, E85, or any mixture of the two. By volume, ethanol contains about 1/3 less energy than gasoline. Drivers shouldn’t really notice a performance loss when they’re using E85. In fact, some fuel flex vehicles perform better with more torque and horsepower when they’re running on E85 than when they’re running on regular gas. So we hit and few things here and there, but what about the big question? Is ethanol bad for your engine? Sometimes. – [Disembodied Voice] It
has to; how can it not? – [Disembodied Voice]
No way, not a chance. – In newer engines,
E10 oxygenated gasoline can be safely used with
only minimal inconvenience. Like a slight decrease in miles per gallon and fuel efficiency. But many other types of engines, they’re not designed to resist the possible damaging
effects of ethanol fuel. Ethanol attracts water the same way that I attract twice divorced, chain-smoking patrons at Applebee’s. Oh, but their appetizers are exceptional. Ethanol attracts and absorbs water, including water from the air. When it absorbs enough water, fuel-water contamination
occurs in the car’s gas tank, and that affects your engine performance. If the car sits for a while,
fuel separation occurs. This is where the gas and the water form layers in the gas tank, and the motor sucks up the
water layer into the engine, which makes for some
seriously costly damage. Ethanol is alcohol, and alcohol can cause
corrosion in the fuel system. Metal parts rust, and plastic parts become
deformed or cracked. A lot of older cars especially have problems with ethanol fuel. But if you’re driving your car enough and your gas tank isn’t crummy, you probably don’t need
to worry about that. And there’s also the concern that ethanol reduces the
lubricating properties of gasoline, which is true, to a point. There’s many people up in arms alleging that ethanol in fuel is ruining their engine for that reason. But good oil companies take great pains to make sure that their
gasoline minimizes engine wear. So modern gas in a modern car
shouldn’t be causing damage. But up north where they’re
running two-stroke snowmobiles, they’re blaming ethanol for munching up their engines, which makes sense. Two-strokes need oil mixed
with the gas to run right, and ethanol cuts the the
efficacy of lubricating elements. They might be on to
something is all I’m saying. (dinging) So why do we use it then? Well, first, ethanol is extremely
resistant to pre-ignition. E85 is like a 105 octane gasoline. So if you’re not worried
about fuel economy and you got extremely
high compression ratios and you need super
precise ignition timing, well, you might wanna use
a more ethanol-rich fuel. Wait. High compression? Precise ignition timing? Don’t care how much fuel I use? That sounds like a race car. If you walk around the pits at a race, it doesn’t smell like gas. It smells like ethanol, baby. These cars are tuned to
run on ethanol-rich fuels, so they don’t have the same concerns about engine wear that I would in, say, my 35-year-old Oldsmobile. Also, gasoline blended with ethanol burns cleaner than pure gasoline. In here we got ethanol, and in here we got gasoline. Can you see it? – [Disembodied Voice] No. – See the difference in the flame? – [Disembodied Voice] No. – You can barely see that one. Alright, it was too light outside to see the difference, so
we’re gonna do it in here. Cool. Ethanol, gas. Look at that. Sweet, sweet flame. So you can see how much
cleaner ethanol is than gas. Let’s get back to the lab and talk about other crap. Ethanol cuts a car’s
greenhouse gas emissions. The addition of ethanol to
gasoline makes it an oxygenate, which satisfies the requirements
of the Clean Air Act. So our ethanol makes our current tech a little cleaner before
the next thing takes off, whatever that might be. Fully electric, hydrogen, something else, and then the internal combustion engine becomes just like my
happiness; a thing of the past. Please subscribe to Donut. It’s how we get to make new shows. We wanna make you happy. Hey, I’d like to thank Audible for partnering with us on this episode. It’s the holidays. You’re gonna be traveling. You gotta listen to a good book. You’re going home, visiting your family, you’re gonna need to get away. Why don’t you get something to listen to that makes you smarter? I’m listening to Oil by Upton Sinclair. That’s more than half
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if you didn’t know. Hit the notification button so
that you can stay up-to-date. Hey, you wanna know more about fuels, you can check out the first
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cabinet are White Lightning.

100 Replies to “ETHANOL – GOOD OR BAD? – How it Works | SCIENCE GARAGE”

  1. “And then the internal combustion engine becomes a thing of the past like my happiness” 😂 Bart always has me dying lmao but I learn a lot! Great job guys 😉

  2. Unless your charging, stay away from ethanol. It will kill machines.
    Sunoco still sells no ethanol and leaded fuel. Your engine will thank you.

  3. E85 turns my 2010 ford escape 3.0l Dohc v6 (flex fuel) into a freaking beast. The fun part is when the rpms get into 4k range it feels like it's taking off like a jet 😂

  4. I live in Brazil, use ethanol for years in different cars, it works as well gasoline with little more torque and power. No issues at all.

  5. The average yield per acre is 328, that includes dryland, which relies on rainfall and has low to mid 200 yields, and irrigated which is over 500 gallons per acre of corn. 660 x 66 ft or 208 x 208 ft is one acre which might sound like a very large space to someone who lives in an apartment, but its small when you realize the miles and miles of relatively flat ground where farming happens. Getting 500 gallons of fuel from a small space actually works rather well.

    Also, the ethanol process uses only 1/3 of the kernel, the starch, which is undigestable by cattle, chickens, etc. What is left over after fermentation/distillation is called distillers dried grains, or DDGS. People, cattle, and other livestock can eat that, and its healthier for all involved than straight corn is. Cattle will burn out if you feed them straight corn, it has to be cut with something else, or fermented in silage to break down the starch. Cattle pack on muscle 17% faster on DDGS than they do other feeds with whole cracked corn in them. Thus we can make more food while we make fuel.

    However, there are other sources of starch/sugar we can use to make fuel. Cattails produce anywhere from 1000 gallons per acre to 10,000 gallons, the highest when used to remediate waste water, and the lower from streams and ditches. Cattails are incredibly difficult to kill, and they grow profusely, plus they clean water of nitrates.

    What I use to make my fuel is tree sap. Its very easy, no enzyme required, collect the sap, get it to 10% sugar content by removing a little water, then add yeast. Wait a week, and run it through my still. What is left over is biodegradable, and I reuse most of my water.

  6. damage…. heh. I have been running hydrous ethanol, with 4% to 15% water still in it as it comes out of my still, and E85 since 2007 in my 1970 GTO, with the original tank and hard lines. The 1968 LeMans has been on it since 2015 with the original tank. The 1965 GTO since last summer after I completed a frame off rebuild from a very rusty rolling shell. The 1998 LS1 powered Formula has had everything from E0 to E100 run through it without modifications.At 50% the 98 Formula throws a lean bank code because the ECM has tight parameters, but at 30-40% it makes a ton of power. Larger injectors and a retune and it will run E100 no problem.

    After a decade running hydrous ethanol and E85 I have zero problems with corrosion, eating rubber parts, and actually all of it lasts longer than it did on gasoline. No stainless, no special rubber, just basic NAPA and Advance Auto rubber fuel hose, and whatever electric pump will hand with my 455s.

    Water in ethanol fuel is not a problem at all, until you get to about 30% – 40%, then it starts to pull aluminum into suspension via electrolysis over a rather long time. Water and ethanol mix together in such a way that yo have to run them through a still to separate them, and if yo add 1 gallon of ethanol to 1 gallon of water, you do not end up with 2 gallons, its a bit over 1.75 gallons. They bond at the molecular level, and that allows you to burn water that collects in the tank from heat cycle condensation.

  7. The BTU content of ethanol is mostly irrelevant, unless you plan to heat water with it. BTU is how fast a fuel can raise the temperature of 1 pound of water 1 degree. Look it up, that is all its measures. Over 80% of the energy in gasoline goes to waste heat, cars are lucky to get 20% of the energy to move it, in the real world they are around 17%-18% with EFI. With a carb, ethanol is 40% efficient, meaning it only loses 60% of its energy to waste heat.

    The mileage difference is due to ethanol being an oxygenated fuel, you add even more oxygen when you add more fuel, so its a compound interest sort of thing and you have to throw more at it to make the AFR work. You will lose mileage with a low compression engine on ethanol. Its just not working the fuel hard enough. Crank up the compression well beyond what gasoline can handle, to around 12:1 static and you get the same mileage as gasoline with LOTS more torque in the low to mid range RPM. That is why my Pontiac engines run so freakin well on it, they make all their power between idle and 6000rpm. 500ftlbs just above idle is super easy, and its still making 500ftlbs at 6000. Its hard to imagine when you have a tiny engine that needs high rpm to make power.

    16:1 compression is easily handled by E85, meaning $2 a gallon fuel will outperform $8+ race gas and you can drive it on the street. My daily driver 65 GTO has just under 12:1 and the 70 GTO has 13:1. Ethanol will still run at 5:1 compression, and anything up to 26:1 with straight ethanol. Its an amazing performance fuel, and its cheap.

  8. My cars on ethanol sit from November to May because of the snow. I live in the north where people travel for hours to come here and ride snowmobiles. There is a trail running along the back of my property, I get snowmobiles and side by sides all the time. My cars are covered with snow, as in buried under it from December to April. They do not move. At all. I have zero problems with water separating and getting sucked into my carbs/injectors. Why? Because ethanol bonds to water and allows you to burn it with no detrimental effects. Its the same process as HEET and Drygas, which use methanol and isopropyl alcohol to do exactly the same thing.

    Small engines, including two strokes, will run no problem on straight ethanol. The problem is, the two stroke oil yo mix with gasoline does not want to mix with ethanol. However, castor oil, canola oil, veggie oil, etc will mix with ethanol and burn in a two stroke. I have run my chainsaws on canola and hydrous ethanol for years. It does tend to start harder in cold weather, but they make more power than on gas, and everything stays very clean.

  9. You do not get wear in engines that run on 100% ethanol, they do this in Brazil and taxi cabs go a million miles on hydrous ethanol with minimal wear. My oil changes are once a year in my ethanol fueled vehicles. I put around 5000 miles on my GTO every summer, sometimes 10,000 when I take a long road trip. When I pull my engines apart to change cams, or heads for more power, they are spotless inside and I can't see any wear. I am a hard core gearhead, own around 40-50 vehicles most of which are older than 1979, the newest is a 2006 Gran Prix I got for $500 to drive in the snow and salt.

    I build my engines, transmissions, carbs, and I do E85 Qjet carbs for other people. I have no problem taking something apart just to take a look inside. I beat the living shit out of my cars and trucks, no grandma putting around for me. I have 700hp single digit ET street cars with Pontiac engines, and my daily driver runs 11s with a 3.42 gear and no power adder. The reason I am into ethanol is I can make the stuff at home, no need to pay others for it, it handles high compression easily, and it makes more power due to the extra oxygen in it.

    So while you are technically correct on most of this, there are many omissions, over simplifications, and incorrect assumptions in your video.

  10. Brazil uses sugar cane to make ethanol. I believe it is more efficient than corn just as it is more efficient at making sugar. By the way, Brazil has been using this fuel since the 1980s.

  11. How ethanol is produced in the USA is neither the only nor the best method used. It is just the method used. Good advice to find out why that is if you're curious is simple. Follow the money.

  12. literally before he mentioned that they put gasoline on it so that you cant drink it i was asking myself what would happen if i just straight up started drinking it at the pump in the gasoline station 🙁

  13. Takeaways, if you are not built and or tuned for ethanol fuels, they're bad. Lol. if you're driving a daily driver that can take flex fuel or is it least newer, they're okay. If you are driving a race car, then it's a good thing.

  14. I believe all cars should be running on ethanol! We should be able to stop at the station and fill up our car and our jar! Unfortunately, cars are all designed for nasty petroleum. Food versus Fuel propaganda was all a fraud. I am a distiller. Your nonsense about corn and ethanol is not accurate and intellectually dishonest. Your viewers need to research food versus fuel myths. Your video is perpetuating lies. I am sure you are just ignorant to the facts, so I will give you a chance to do your own research and post a followup video. Wakey Wakey Sheeple!

  15. In brazil, since we produce a lot of ethanol, our cars are tuned to run on either gas or ethanol, and even the gas here have a small percentage of ethanol due to government regulations( don't know why).

  16. after i came to sweden i learned that as a new member of sweden i have to buy a Volvo and fill it with 60%petrol and 40%E85 because it is a poor mans nitro. Shit the car goes fast. It is basicaly Moonshine and Vodka 🤣

  17. My entire fuel pumps needed to be replaced and fuel tank was cleaned from a glue like substance from e85 . My jeep has flex fuel option. The check engine light was coming in error low fuel pressure. The idling sounding like timing was off 3 yrs in to continues e85 usage. I switched back to super gasoline 93 octane and notice improvements with idle acceleration overall performance .and the glue is gone from my tank . I don't understand why if I had flexfuel option I damaged everything

  18. you do know the byproduct of ethanol is cow food don't you ? its actually more food and more fuel … https://youtu.be/Yp5rx1e0LLE

  19. Don't even joke about the ICE going away. It really never has to with other synthetic fuel options being hidden away out there, the only reason it would go away would be a political move.

  20. I believe the 2 stroke engine like the Achates Engine design with opposed piston design could run ethanol without touching the lubrication.

  21. Bad. Bad for your engine, bad for your injectors, also the idea that we are diverting FOOD to use as a fuel source when there are people literally starving in the US, kind of a silly idea. If the market could support it, then sure, but to require it is absurd

  22. Hahaha are we supposed to believe the ethanol is mixed with the gasoline after the dehydration process so as to comply with this "rule" that says it has to be made so people can't "drink it"? Who is going to drink it? Nah man, is the arrogant oil industry injecting their fossil fuel to the cleanest fuel on earth with that lame excuse just so pure ethanol is not viable for commercialization and therefore ending the empire that standard oil and the asshole of rockefeller left on this planet. Cheers Shell ! For f*cking us up one more time.

  23. Use ethanol free 90 octane gas in my truck. Runs better, power is more instant when pressing the gas pedal, and better gas mileage

  24. Bring the science garrage back!!! Bring the science garrage back!!! Bring the science garrage back!!! Bring the science garrage back!!! Bring the science garrage back!!! Bring the science garrage back!!! Bring the science garrage back!!! Bring the science garrage back!!! Bring the science garrage back!!! Bring the science garrage back!!! Bring the science garrage back!!! Bring the science garrage back!!! Bring the science garrage back!!! Bring the science garrage back!!! Bring the science garrage back!!! Bring the science garrage back!!! Bring the science garrage back!!! Bring the science garrage back!!! Bring the science garrage back!!! Bring the science garrage back!!!

  25. If you are a Brazilian and you’re watching this, you are laughing kkk.
    Ethanol here is literally more common than gasoline, since the 80’s. 90% of all new cars here are flex fuel. We use more Ethanol on our cars than gasoline. And yep most of our 1980’s ethanol cars are still runing.

  26. So if im mixing my own fuels to blend E30 (mostly 93 than e85), for a modern engine that only gets driven 6k-8k miles a year, should i be really concerned with moisture absorption in my e85 thru the humid summer months? It gets driven more in the summer so im guessing it should be ok.

  27. Among the many ignorant and insidious claims spread by the oil industry to denigrate ethanol is that ethanol sucks water right out of the air. Sometimes it's phrased as "it absorbs water right out of the atmosphere." I recently conducted a test to prove that ethanol does not attract and then absorb water right out of the air. This video can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nC0srT0zlh8.

    The complete backstory on my position on ethanol and hygroscopy can be found at: https://www.theautochannel.com/news/2016/03/18/209988-ethanol-does-not-suck-water-out-air.html

  28. Don't know if it's the same in other countries, but in France E85 is 0.5cts to 0.6cts€ per liter when Gasoline is 1.45€ for SP95 E10 to 1.7/L. It's almost 3 times cheaper for E85 dude, fuck the tank's health, my 206 is a race car now 😂

  29. Regardless if your car is tuned for it or not. If you got a turbocharged engine, e85 will give you a SHOT. Just make sure you put a little OTP booster in so your engine dont knock

  30. I wish you talked about why people use Ethanol and the power/torque difference or effects it can have on your vehicle.

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