The following is an open letter from Marc Rauch, the executive vice president and co-publisher of The Auto Channel to Loren Steffy, writer for Chron. Reprinted here with Marc Rauch's permission.
Hi Loren -
just had the opportunity to read your "Ethanol Chronicle" series that
was published on the Houston Chronicle website from February to March
I realize that that was eight years ago, but one of the great aspects
of the Internet is that things are often where they were left for anyone
to see and comment on.
Nothing much has changed in the
efforts to find an alternative to petroleum oil engine fuels. Likewise,
the typical arguments used against ethanol in 2007 are still being used
today. So while I'm very tardy in commenting on your series, I think
that my counter-arguments are as fresh as ever. Additionally, while the
same arguments are still being used against ethanol, the research and
science has progressed considerably. It may be too late to include my
comments at the bottom of the Houston Chronicle webpages, but perhaps
you will revisit the subject again in the near future and find my
remarks useful to that new effort.
It seems to me that
your experience with using E85 was generally very positive and
intuitive. For example, the fueling process didn't require learning any
new pumping or safety techniques, and you didn't have to travel extended
distances to unsavory filling station locations. I mention this because
if you were doing a comparison between using a gasoline-powered vehicle
and a CNG-powered vehicle you would have had to learn some new pumping
techniques, learn to wrestle with obstinate CNG hoses, and get
acquainted with some dark CNG fueling facilities that you wouldn't want
your wife or daughter to have to use on their own. (Incidentally, I own a
dedicated CNG vehicle and I'm a big fan of this alt fuel, but it does
present these challenges.)
What's more, your story
didn't indicate any performance difficulties or changes when you used
the E85. I would describe your experience with the flex fuel vehicle and
the fuel as having been "seamless." I presume you would agree with
The negative experience would have been the lower
MPG from E85 as compared to regular gasoline (I assume it was E10, but
might have been some other formulation that was available to you in
2007). By my calculations you experienced about an 18% reduction in MPG.
However, you correctly assessed that the lower price of E85 mitigated
the loss in MPG, and could even make the lower MPG irrelevant by
providing a net gain from using E85. As a matter of interest, at the E85
filling station that I typically use, E85 is nearly 25% less than E10.
So even if I experienced 18% fewer MPG I would come out well ahead. As
it turns out, my MPG loss is not nearly so great (under 10% difference),
so I come out far ahead.
Along the way you were
exposed (or perhaps re-exposed) to some of the negative criticisms of
ethanol, such as the Pimentel-Patzek EROEI claims and the limitations of
E85 availability. And your series concluded with what I feel is Henry
Groppe's biased pro-petroleum oil praise.
continue, I would like to tell you that what I thought was really great
about your test was that you did it by renting a flex fuel vehicle. Your
experience is the first I've ever come across in which an "objective"
journalist writing about ethanol fuels actually stepped up to the plate
and did a real on-the-road comparison. Time after time I've read
critical reviews of ethanol in which there was no hands-on testing
conducted by the author. In my personal experimentations over the years I
have been fortunate enough to be given plenty of flex fuel and non-flex
fuel press vehicles with which I could do similar tests. Added to that,
I've been willing to use my own personal gasoline-powered vehicles as
guinea pigs. Consequently, I'm always suspect of a report damning
ethanol (or any other alt fuel) that doesn't include practical personal
Writing The Ethanol Chronicles in the year
you did, you of course didn't have the opportunity to evaluate the
Pimentel-Patzek 2005 study against the numerous opposing studies and
backlash that were to come in subsequent years. This includes
challenging reports by domestic and foreign universities, USDA, Argonne
National Laboratory, and the findings revealed in an hour-long televised
debate that pitted Pimentel and Patzek against Michigan State
University Professor Bruce Dale and the NREL's John Sheehan.
say that Pimentel-Patzek has been soundly rebuked is an understatement.
Unfortunately the weight of the oil industry's checkbook has been able
to overcome any perfunctory media discussion of Pimentel-Patzek's
Your concern that there were not
enough E85 filling stations is still a valid concern. It would
definitely be helpful to any motorists (with or without flex fuel
vehicles) if E85 was as ubiquitous as E10. However, one of the best
features of a flex fuel vehicle is that it doesn't require only one type
of fuel. As compared to having a dedicated CNG vehicle that is
dead-in-the-water if it can't get to the next CNG facility, a flex fuel
or non-flex fuel vehicle (that uses high level ethanol-gasoline splash
blends) can go right back to E10 or non-ethanol gasoline when needed. So
there should never be any "range anxiety" issues.
point you mentioned in 2007, and couldn't have predicted the outcome
was the elimination of the national at-the-pump subsidy for using E85.
As you know, that subsidy was retired nearly two years ago. It was
believed that the price of E85 would then go higher than E10. However,
that hasn't happened, the price of E85 is still lower than E10, and
often much, much lower than ethanol-free gasoline.
response to the encouraging results that you shared with Henry Groppe,
you quoted Mr. Groppe as saying "That’s not the point....Part of the
reason oil has been our fuel of choice for so long is because it’s
incredibly efficient and has a high energy content."
afraid that Mr. Groppe's long association and probable financial
entanglements with the petroleum industry has either clouded or
obfuscated the real reason why petroleum oil fuels have been our primary
engine fuels for so long: The petroleum industry bought that position
through financial considerations and duplicitous, sometimes deadly,
actions. For the sake of brevity I will not present what these
duplicitous, sometimes deadly actions are, but I would be most happy to
provide extensive details and references upon your request.
the issue of gasoline's BTU rating being higher than ethanol is
completely irrelevant to any comparison between gasoline and ethanol. If
"higher energy content" had any relevancy when comparing fuels used in
internal combustion engines then you would be able to use diesel fuel in
a gasoline-powered vehicle and get better mileage. Engine-fuel
optimization is the key, not BTU rating. In my opinion, a man in Mr.
Groppe's distinguished position in the energy industry should have known
this and not have made this comment.
can become a viable replacement for gasoline, or at the least a very
significant part of the solution to ending our oil addiction, but only
when the truth is allowed to be seen and heard.
Very truly yours,
Marc J. Rauch
Exec. Vice President/Co-Publisher
THE AUTO CHANNEL LLC