What happened to ethanol?…

Aug 17, 2023
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There was a time not so long ago that you could easily get ethanol (alcohol fuel) in North Dakota, but now you have to search for it and sometimes when you find an E-85 refueler, the place is “out of stock.”


Why is this the case? The availability of ethanol is definitely lacking across the state. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, there are 14 (E-85) locations in North Dakota and eight of them are in Fargo and two are in Grand Forks.


You used to be able to fill with ethanol as far west as New Town and Richardton. In fact, there is an ethanol plant across the road from Cenex in Richardton, where ethanol was available. Now, it’s not available at all in Richardton.


If you look at our neighbors, Minnesota and South Dakota, there are plenty of places to get E-85. In Minnesota, there are more than 400 locations in which you can purchase E-85. I’ve never counted the number in South Dakota, but there are numerous places in Rapid City, Pierre, Aberdeen and Mobridge, that I know of, that sell E-85, E-30 and even E-15.


But in North Dakota it’s hard to find, even though about 30 percent of the vehicles on the road today are flex fuel vehicles.
One of the things critics continue to talk about is ethanol is no good because you lose gas mileage. Yes, you do lose gas mileage, but you gain the equivalent amount of torque in the process.


My own example is with a 2007 Ford F-150 I drive. Gas mileage is poor in any 4-wheel drive, but when I put E-85 in the tank, it provides plenty of giddy up… hard to quantify… but the zero to 60 easily compares with my 1985 Pontiac Trans Am.
Right now I’m paying $1 less for E-85 than I am for gasoline. I’m losing 2 miles per gallon so that translates to about 40 miles for a tank of fuel. So when you put a pencil to it, my gas tank holds 22 gallons. Filling with gas costs $81.18 cents right now. A tank of E-85 is $61.38.


Now, translate that to those 40 fewer miles. Sure, I’m losing mileage, but I’m saving $20 on a tank of fuel and gaining enough torque to accelerate quickly when passing on a two-lane highway, plus, I’m putting less pollution into the air.
E-10 is easily available just about anywhere in North Dakota. But on a recent trip through Devils Lake, I found a place that advertises “no ethanol.”


Here’s the talk about E-10. It’s no good for your seals. It eats rubber seals and gums up your carburetor, if you still have one.
My testimonial to that is I’ve been commercial gardening for the past 18 years. I’ve had numerous small engines; lawn mowers, irrigation pumps, chain saws, rototillers and a woodchipper. I’ve always used E-10 in those engines and I’ve never had a problem.


In fact, I have two irrigation pumps that I purchased in 2009. They both have Briggs & Stratton engines. At the end of the season, I drain the water and put them in storage, but I don’t drain the gas.
When I set them up the following spring, either one will start on the first or second pull.


Those pumps have been running flawlessly for 15 years. Gee, it sure hasn’t eaten the seals or gummed up the carburetor. I’m not sure where that myth comes from, but it sure hasn’t affected my bottom line.


As long as the price of ethanol is reasonable, I’ll continue to use it because it’s better for the environment, it doesn’t destroy engines and it supports farmers who raise corn. And, you can use marginal corn to produce ethanol. You can’t always use it to feed your livestock.
I think the real problem is the price. I noted this several years ago at a downtown Minot E-85 location. The refueler quit selling it because “customers weren’t buying it.” It’s no wonder, the price was 10 cents less than gas. At that point, it isn’t economical.


Sixty cents is the benchmark and as long as it stays below that price point, it’s saving me money. Alcohol might eat your rubber seals and gum up your carburetor, but it hasn’t bothered mine.


And let’s not forget the bitter cold of winter. I just chuckle when I see people adding isopropyl alcohol to keep their gas line from freezing. It’s irrelevant. Most gas already has enough alcohol in it to prevent that. Even at 40 below zero, your fuel won’t crystalize.

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