Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Fueling the ethanol debate...

Posted 6/20/17 (Tue)

Why do people keep insisting that ethanol is corrosive and not good for internal combustion engines including car engines, small engines and marine engines?

I’ve long disagreed with that assessment and I will continue to disagree with it because it appears to be a statement that few people can verify or quantify.

When you look on the Internet, you’ll find numerous sources that tell you ethanol is bad, it’s corrosive, it eats rubber gaskets and O-rings, it clogs your fuel line and fouls your carburetor.

However, when you look at the sources of those Internet entries, they’re credibility is suspect at best.

I’ve never seen a legitimate newspaper or magazine article that would lead me to believe that 10 percent ethanol is bad for an internal combustion engine.

I’ve been living in northwestern North Dakota for 12 years and in that time have had 13 items with small engines mounted and I’ve never had one iota of any of the symptoms related to all these ethanol horror stories.

In fact, those 13 small engines; four Kohler, eight Briggs & Stratton and one Tecumseh have all performed well and I’ve continually poured ethanol-blended fuel into those tanks.

In addition, the Tecumseh, which was on a John Deere 112 that I have since sold, was 49 years old and running well when I sold it. My 110 John Deere had a Kohler engine that always started quickly and never misfired.

But here’s an example that really makes me wonder if there is some kind of conspiracy to shut the door on the use of alcohol fuel.

Because I’m a vegetable gardener outside of this job, I have two irrigation pumps that both have Briggs & Stratton engines. At the end of the season, I run them out of gas, drain the water out and store them on a shelf in the garage.

Last year I forgot to deliberately run the engines out of gas, which had 10 percent alcohol. And, after being stored in an unheated garage over the winter, then hooking up the hoses in May, both engines started with nothing more than a choke of the carburetor and ran well at the 200-gallon-per-minute capacity of each of them.

I’ve removed spark plugs, carburetors and valve covers and I’ve never seen any evidence of corrosion or rubber seals being eaten.

On the contrary, the spark plugs seem to be much cleaner than spark plugs on engines I used in a lawn mowing business when I was in high school.

But in the ‘70s, Cenex in North Dakota sold gasohol, which is a methanol blend. Methanol is indeed corrosive. Perhaps that’s where this repeated corrosive insistence comes from.

When I got sent to Fort McCoy, Wis., in 2006, I owned a Ford Ranger. I bought it new in 2003 and drove it three years and my wife drove it the year I was gone.

It wasn’t a flex fuel vehicle, but I treated it as such, burning E-85 often and to this day I will say I’m completely satisfied with the performance of that engine.

University research shows that 85 percent ethanol is corrosive to copper and aluminum and that’s why the lines in flex fuel vehicles are stainless steel.

But if you’re using 10 percent ethanol, there are already corrosive properties added to that gas. Non-ethanol gas, premium gas with high octane and 10 percent ethanol all have similar corrosive properties added by the industry.

But newer vehicles are designed to use E-85 which are retrofitted with metal that doesn’t have a chemical reaction to alcohol.

South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Montana all have E-85 refuelers. The last time I checked, Minnesota had 400 places where you could get E-85.

OK, if alcohol fuel is so bad for these engines, why is it sold just about every place but North Dakota, outside of Fargo?

If it is so bad, then why is there such a demand for it?

When the Model T was introduced in 1908, it and every model T thereafter until 1927, was “flex fuel” and was designed to operate on gasoline or alcohol.

Why didn’t it become more popular then? Because oil was so cheap, unlike today and alcohol wasn’t worth the manufacture.

Thus, gasoline became the norm, but I seriously doubt Henry Ford would have staked his reputation on a bad fuel after announcing the Model T could run on alcohol.

If all these corrosive claims are true, someone will have to show me the proof of why it’s happening because I don’t believe any of  it. In the mean time, I will continue to use ethanol fuel in my equipment.