Energy myths

Energy myths

Ethanol fails to live up to its promises

The reason the U.S. Congress has subsidized the production of ethanol from corn has always been to reduce U.S. imports of oil. But between 1999 and 2009, when U.S. production of ethanol rose by a factor of seven to more than 700,000 barrels per day (bbl/d), oil imports rose by more than 800,000 bbl/d, according to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research ( In fact, oil imports tracked closely with oil consumption, falling as consumption fell and rising when consumption grew. And ethanol production had no apparent effect on the volume of oil imports or consumption.

The reason ethanol has no effect on consumption can be found by examining the refining process. Sending a barrel of crude through a refinery yields different cuts or products. They range from light cuts, such as propane and butane, to heavy cuts such as asphalt. Even the highest-quality crude yields only about 20 gallons of gasoline. And some types of crude, such as light sweet, a high-quality, lowsulfur grade, are better suited than others for making gasoline or diesel. Even the most technically advanced refineries cannot synthesize only one product from a barrel of crude; they must make several.

So corn ethanol has not reduced the volume of oil imports because it can only replace one type of cut: gasoline. And until someone comes up with substitutes for all refined petroleum products, U.S. companies must rely on the global oil market.

At the same time, ethanol-making companies are lobbying for a move to E15, a blend of 15% ethanol, 85% gasoline, as U.S. ethanol production climbs to 13 billion gallons per year. But only about 8 million of the 250 million cars on U.S. roads are designed to burn fuel with more than10% ethanol. In addition, there are several hundred million non-automotive engines that shouldn’t burn gasoline containing more than 10% ethanol.

Automotive myths

Here are a couple myths busted courtesy of the Canadian Automobile Assn:

MYTH –Choosing a fuel-efficient vehicle means compromising safety.

Recent analyses of modern vehicles and highway fatality statistics in the U.S. find no relationship between a vehicle’s fuel efficiency and the risk of injury in a collision. This myth stems from a shift in vehicle design in the late 1970s, when auto engineers started turning out smaller cars to reduce weight and thereby reduce fuel consumption. This fostered a belief among the public that fuel efficiency was only a feature of smaller, lighter cars. But because lighter cars of that time did not fare well in collisions with heavier vehicles, people assumed safety measures hurt fuel economy. Today, vehicle weight is no longer an accurate predictor of either fuel efficiency or safety performance.

MYTH –It’s more fuel-efficient to use air conditioning on the highway than to roll the windows down.

At normal highway speeds, there is a small rise in air resistance if a car’s windows are down. But energy lost to the increased air resistance is usually much less than the energy needed to run the air conditioner. It is only at speeds well above most speed limits that rolling up the windows and turning on the A/C saves fuel.

As a general guide, until the noise from wind rushing past the open windows makes conversation impossible, you are probably saving fuel by keeping the windows down and the air conditioning off.

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