The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Ethanol and the Public Perception

By: Justin Allaman,

Big River Resources, LLC

[The following comments represent the individual views of Mickey Shay of Menomonie, Wisconsin and should be taken as such. They do not necessarily represent the views of Big River Resources, LLC or its affiliates.]

When current University of Wisconsin-River Falls Agricultural Studies student Mickey Shay first heard of ethanol, little did he know that he would someday find himself on the front lines, defending the Renewable Fuels Standard against big oil companies and the misinformed public.

Shay-who is not associated with the renewable fuels industry and has no family ties to an ethanol plant-was introduced to ethanol by a neighbor who hauled his grain to the local plant.

From there Shay was hooked, reading articles and viewing online videos. After watching a video of a non-flex fuel vehicle running on E85, Shay was inspired to run his own tests. He shared his findings and opinions concerning ethanol's engine performance with me via phone interview on December 11th.

What did Shay tell me he learned about ethanol? "It works just as good as gas. I haven't had any issues as far as corrosiveness or parts breaking. The performance is the same or sometimes better, and the mileage doesn't really change when I use it."

Part of Shay's findings included driving 30,000 miles in a non-flex fuel vehicle running on E85 with no negative consequences. "There's no difference between the two fuels [gasoline and ethanol] except one is cheaper, cleaner, and American made," he affirmed.

While running tests, Shay would fill his vehicle up with a tank of regular gasoline, record the mileage, then fill up on E85 and record the mileage once again.

"I could tell it was getting cleaned out, looking at the exhaust. [Ethanol] is not as black coming out of the tailpipe."

Acknowledging that E85 results in lower miles per gallon, Shay adds it was ":nothing too severe, not really noticeable."

When experimenting with E30 and other mid-level ethanol blends, Shay reported one mile per gallon better than straight gasoline.

"Ethanol definitely burns cooler," he mentioned. While gas and oil burns more "sooty," ethanol ":burns cleaner so there's less carbon and gunk buildup inside the engine."

And Shay should know. For the last couple winters he has operated his snowmobile on E40. He recently spent four days at the Iola Antique Car Show running his generator on E15.

Not to mention his Dad's old road bike motorcycle being driven on E10. And oh yes, Shay burns E85 in his lawnmower.

When I mentioned that NASCAR recently reached 5,000,000 miles using an ethanol blend with no problems, Shay isn't surprised.

"It's a fuel in a machine, so obviously things can break and wear out, but I haven't personally seen anything after thousands of hours in small engines and thousands of miles in vehicles," he told me.

Those purchasing vehicles or having them serviced in the Southeast Iowa/West Central Illinois region may have seen recent advertisements about ethanol damaging engines. According to Shay, ethanol is ":no more corrosive than gasoline on newer engines."

And while some have accused ethanol of absorbing water, Shay said those accusations:don't hold water. "The concern would be moisture getting into the fuel and sitting for a long period of time. The ethanol absorbs the water because it's alcohol and then the ethanol separates from the gasoline because gas is oil based.

But it would take months:for that to happen just sitting because it would take that long for the alcohol to absorb that much water. I've never personally seen it or even heard of it till recently." Referring to vehicles that are driven regularly, Shay pointed out that ":people fill up then go a week then have to re-fill."

When asked about the public's perception of ethanol, Shay says he finds the population falls into three broad groups: 50% of people for ethanol, 25% of people against it, and 25% somewhere in between who are generally uninformed.

"I can't change other people's minds," he admits. His belief is that once confronted with facts, most people seem more willing to burn ethanol, but it's not a decision that can be made for others.

"Once you tell people the benefits, they can use it or not use it. Whatever I tell them isn't going to change their minds."