The power of alcohol …

Does anyone remember gasohol? Local Farmers Union Oil companies used to sell it as an alternative fuel in the 1970s. This stuff was going to change the entire dynamic of fueling internal combustion engines. Gasohol was great for a few months until people started realizing what was happening. Rubber O rings and gaskets were deteriorating much faster than they should have. The gasohol was actually breaking down the rubber. As it turned out, gasohol was a mixture of gasoline and methanol, an alcohol that is used in various applications from rocket fuel to antifreeze. But because it became such a problem in gas lines, it went by the wayside because consumers no longer reveled in it.

Some years later, ethanol came along which is alcohol made from corn, while methanol is usually produced from wood or is chemically produced in a lab. Ethanol got some traction that methanol did not, but there are still people who believe that ethanol and methanol are one and the same, but they're not. The alcohol in ethanol has an insignificant effect on rubber. It’s like Johnny Carson’s analogy of Fresca causing cancer. You’d have to drink 66 cans of Fresca every day for 600 years to develop cancer from it. It’s insignificant.

As the ethanol industry grew, the auto makers began building cars called flex fuel vehicles to handle 85 percent alcohol/15 percent gasoline mix commonly known as E-85. The good news about E-85 is it is high octane and will give any engine more torque and take off power. The bad news is mileage in your vehicle will drop off 2 or 3 miles per gallon. Thus, you have to weigh the mileage vs. the cost to compare the economy of gas or ethanol. Some of us just like to have that extra giddy up.

The problem with ethanol in North Dakota is a chicken and egg scenario. It’s gotten to where consumers don’t buy it because it’s too expensive relative to gasoline. At the same time, refuelers stop handling it because nobody’s buying it. Farmers Union Oil Co. in Devils Lake was the first place to offer ethanol in North Dakota. Sometime later, it began offering biodiesel. Today, E-85 is still available there. Biodiesel is only available now in Grand Forks? But, go across the border into Minnesota, and you’ll find six biodiesel locations in Moorhead with another 20 miles away in Barnesville.

In reality, to make E-85 cost effective, it should cost 60 cents less per gallon than gas does. If not, you’re not getting your money’s worth. According to the Alternative Fuels Data Center, 35 refuelers in North Dakota have E-85, including 11 in Fargo and two in West Fargo. Bismarck, Mandan, Devils Lake and Valley City, each have two. Minot has one, and in South Dakota, Aberdeen, with the same population as Minot, has five.

Alcohol burns clean, it won’t destroy the seals and O-rings, and it is an excellent gas line anti-freeze. I often chuckle when I see people putting isopropyl alcohol in their tanks during bitter cold temperatures. If you have a vehicle that burns any amount of alcohol from E-10 to E-85, you don’t need to put alcohol in your gas line. There are several ethanol facilities in North Dakota, and one oxymoron is in Richardton. Red Trail Energy produces alcohol fuel from corn, and across the highway is Farmers Union Oil, yet, it doesn’t offer alcohol fuel. Most filling stations do use 10 percent alcohol in their gas, which again, is adequate for gas line anti-freeze.

When you consider corn as the product in making ethanol, these facilities aren’t using corn for human consumption and making us go hungry, as some conspiracy theorists have been led to believe. The ethanol plants are using feed grade corn, and the byproduct of that is fed to cattle so there is virtually no waste involved.

Consumer habits really drive this product. If you look at Minnesota, there are about 400 places to get E-85. The map of Iowa looks very similar. Florida, which doesn’t have corn to speak of, has at least 58 E-85 refuelers including 10 in the Tampa metro, yet there are none in Montana and only one in Idaho. Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana are dotted with points all across those states. E-85 has been available in North Dakota since 2005 when Devils Lake took on the risk to see how consumers would treat this alternative fuel.

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