E20 is a distraction and worse

Thanks to the Peak Oil News and Message Boards for pointing the way to this article about how the auto industry is opposing efforts to allow gasoline-ethanol blends containing 20% ethanol. Currently the vast majority of ethanol is used as an additive to gasoline and all vehicles on the road can function on blends of up to 10% ethanol.

To go beyond 10%, you need a vehicle specifically designed to run on high-blends--generally in the range of 85% ethanol (a.k.a. E85). The switch to E85 requires a change over in vehicles and fueling infrastructure. We currently use about 140 billion gallons of gasoline, but for various reasons, we probably couldn't get 10% ethanol into every gallon without overcoming the vehicle and infrastructure issues.  For air quality reasons (see this fact sheet for more info) it would be better if we didn't get close to every gallon having 10%. That means that the "blend wall," as it is known, is probably about 12-13 billion gallons.

The ethanol industry is careening quickly towards this number and, understandably, is totally freaked out that we'll reach the blend wall without enough cars and fueling stations (let alone consumer acceptance) to allow the market to keep growing smoothly. Thus their efforts to push the allowance of E20.

Unfortunately, E20, while probably no worse for the air is probably no better than E10, and it will be disastrous for public acceptance. E20 will wreak havoc on many off road engines, which can't handle the corrosive nature of ethanol. Furthermore, E20 just delays the inevitable. We need to get through the blend wall and stop using ethanol as an additive and start using as an alternative, and as part of this building the alternative infrastructure.

The transition may be bumpy, but E20 is a distraction, bad for the environment, and ultimately bad for the industry.