Ethanol

So I’ve been blogging about gas prices and the state of American automakers lately. I haven’t yet addressed one of the solutions that GM has proposed. Ethanol, or E85. Chevy and GMC are labeling their trucks, and some cars as well, as flexible-fuel vehicles, meaning that they can run on either unleaded gasoline or E85. E85 is attractive at first glance because it sells for less than gasoline. GM apparently believes that this is a better long term solution than hybrids. I think they need to reconsider. I applaud their efforts to go in new directions and try new things, but I don’t believe that E85 is a viable solution to America’s rising energy costs, for a couple of reasons.

First, E85 contains less energy per unit of fuel than gasoline, so you’ll need to burn more of it to go the same distance than you would with gasoline. Put another way, if you burn E85 in your car, you won’t go as far as you would have with gasoline. If America were to switch to this fuel we’d need to produce more of it.

Second, it is made with corn, or the American E85 is anyway. This means that the corn that would have been used for food is now used to make fuel for our cars. How many acres of corn plants does it take to produce a gallon of E85? I don’t know, but even if it were a fraction of an acre, we consume hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil per day. Sure corn is replaceable, but this seems to me like a losing proposition.

Finally, this does nothing to improve the efficiency of our cars. Sure more affordable gas is attractive, but doesn’t it make sense that its easier to drive cars that require less fuel to begin with? Especially in the land of SUV’s?

Oh, and I did find out what Chrysler/Dodge is up to. They’re closing plants.

I’m not going to lie, the future for the big three automakers is not pretty. I don’t think its too late, but man, they have to wake up. Make smaller cars. Invest in fuel cells. Make hybrids and electric cars. Hire young engineers that are excited about contributing to the available solutions. Stop putting DVD players in headrests and embrace the thing that made you great to begin with, ingenuity. There are American companies that are doing this, so why can’t you?