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Help us drop some more knowledge on America

Fuel Freedom Foundation has a lot of irons in the fire. Sure, we spread the word about the benefits of fuel choice on our witty, informative social-media channels, our awesome 2014 movie PUMP (Jason Bateman! OMG!!), and our exhaustively comprehensive but hugely entertaining website.

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The 2009 Chevy Malibu, being tested at our Colorado lab.

But we’ve also been busy testing a car in Colorado in an effort to prove to the EPA that it’s possible to convert a gasoline-only car to run on E85 ethanol blend, with only an update to the vehicle’s on-board computer.

We also underwrite research at major universities and think tanks on a variety of issues related to our overall goal of creating fuel choice at the pump. For instance, Prof. James D. Hamilton at the University of California at San Diego wrote a paper showing that 10 of the last U.S. recessions since World War II were preceded by a spike in oil prices. He added that “there is a significant likelihood of repeating that experience within the next 5 years.” Um, that paper was written in 2012, y’all.

Showing that car conversions are feasible is a crucial goal, because millions of American cars might be eligible. There are about 17 million flex-fuel vehicles on the road, capable of running on any mixture of ethanol and gasoline. Millions of other FFV “twins” are around, built at the factory to run on E85 but just needing the software to be optimized to do so. And as Miles Light, an economist at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business, wrote in a paper:

46.9 million conventional fuel vehicles can potentially be converted for $150–$250 each. In all, this represents 77.75 million light duty vehicles, or 31.8% of the national light duty fleet, that would potentially purchase natural gas liquid fuel, if prices were attractive.

Ethanol isn’t the only alcohol fuel that could help us reduce our dependence on oil. A forthcoming study by the MIT Energy Initiative says methanol can improve engine efficiency. An early version of the study states:

Higher engine performance (mostly described in terms of efficiency in this report) can be achieved by intrinsic properties of the fuels, as described above, with no changes to the operation of the vehicle. Or it can be obtained by using different software in the computer, adjusting the parameters (such as spark timing and valve timing), which requires re-calibration of the engine.

Fuel Freedom can’t make fuel choice happen without you. Sign up on our Take Action page to join the fight and receive updates on our progress. And if you’re so inclined, you can donate to our cause so we can keep going with our research and car-testing initiatives.

Americans deserve to drive for less!

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Rauch smacks down ‘corrosive’ argument about ethanol

One of the most often-repeated attacks on ethanol we hear is that “It hurts my engine.” We hear it from people who buy into the oil companies’ misinformation; from people who are (reasonably) concerned about using a new fuel type after 100 years of using the same gasoline tank after tank; and even from car people who insist that it’s the small portion of ethanol — not the dirtier gasoline — that is responsible for engine deposits and wear on fuel systems.

Here’s the truth: Some older vehicles should not use any ethanol blend above E1o, which is up to 10 percent ethanol and what virtually all of us use as regular gasoline. Higher ethanol blends also aren’t approved for motorcycles, boats and yard equipment. But E15 is approved for all vehicles model year 2001 and newer, and there are more than 17 million cars, trucks and SUVs on the road in the U.S. that are flex-fuel vehicles — built to run on E85, which is between 51 percent and 83 percent ethanol.

What happens if a non-FFV uses E85? As many of our supporters on social media have noted, nothing. No engine damage, no corrosion of parts, no locusts descending, nothing bad at all. All that happens is that they pay less at the pump, and go to sleep at night knowing that they’ve made the world a tiny bit better place, because they’ve used an American-made fuel that emits fewer toxic pollutants than gasoline.

In a post last week on Green Car Reports, writer John Voelcker mentioned research promoted by the Urban Air Initiative showing that ethanol-free gasoline (E0) is more corrosive than E10. But Voelcker then takes a swipe at higher ethanol blends:

Ethanol in its purer forms, specifically E85, is long accepted as more corrosive to rubber and other engine components than gasoline.

That’s why carmakers have to develop “Flex-Fuel” engines specifically designed to withstand the effects of fuel that contains a majority of ethanol.

I e-mailed Voelcker’s post to Marc Rauch, executive vice president and co-editor of The Auto Channel (and one of the breakout stars of our 2014 documentary PUMP), and he called me right away. Weary over the persistent “corrosive” debate point, Rauch asked whether ethanol — which is also called ethyl alcohol, grain alcohol or “moonshine” — ate away at the plastic bottles that hold such booze at the liquor store. The answer is no.

“What people don’t get is, everything is corrosive,” he said. “You have to find a material that is not as susceptible to corrosion.”

Rauch then went to the comments section of the Green Car Reports post to elaborate:

Ethanol opponents trump up mythical ethanol mandate predictions and horrific false stories of ethanol-caused damage to frighten consumers. The boating community is a prime example. If boat owners want to hear some truthful comments about ethanol blends they should watch the Vernon Barfield ethanol boating videos on YouTube and listen to the Mercury Marine “Myths of Ethanol and Fuel Care” webinar from August 2011.

… In fact, water is corrosive; wind is corrosive; air is corrosive; gasoline is corrosive; solar rays are corrosive; moving parts are corrosive; human interaction with seating and flooring materials is corrosive.

The reality is that auto manufacturers have had to develop “specially designed” containers to hold water for automatic window washing. That’s right, if they used most metals to hold the water it would rust and/or corrode. Manufacturers had to develop “specially designed” coatings or parts to prevent chassis and fenders and bumpers from water corrosion. Manufacturers had to develop “specially designed” body paint and rubber to prevent solar corrosion. And, over the years auto manufacturers had to develop “specially designed” engine parts, rubber, and body paint that was resistant to the corrosive characteristics of gasoline and diesel.

In other words, if auto manufacturers had to make some alterations to accommodate ethanol, so what? It’s not even worth a serious discussion, and it certainly doesn’t befit a person like you who is supposed to know something about automobiles and industrial engineering.

There’s more good stuff there. Take a look.

If you’d like to see Rauch bat away that and other myths about ethanol one by one, or ask him a question yourself, he’s going to be taking part in a special Twitter conversation with @fuelfreedomnow on Wednesday at 12 noon. Follow the hashtag #FuelChat.

Related content:

 

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10 purchases you have virtually infinite choice over (and one you don’t)

As Americans, we have ample choice in everything. From the cars we drive to the food we eat, freedom of choice is a defining part of our country. Here’s our top 10 things you can choose (and one you can’t).

1. Dogs: Looking for a furry friend? There are 340 dog breeds in the world, not to mention the many different mixed breeds that exist.

2. Ice cream: The free market has never looked (or tasted) better. Craving a delicious treat? Don’t worry, you’ll have ample choice, because the cream scene is changing every day – from your classic mint chip to the wilder flavors like rainbow sherbet – the options are endless.

3. Haircuts: There is an infinite amount of awesome haircuts you can get – from the ever-classy Mohawk to the now popular man bun (disclaimer: Fuel Freedom does not endorse Mohawks), the possibilities are endless!

4. Coffee: Here in America, there are infinite possibilities for coffee. From the tall soy Mocha Frappuccino with extra caramel and no whipped cream to the ever-reliable black coffee – the choice is yours!

5. Selfie Sticks: Surprise! Not only do selfie sticks exist, they’re also customizable, and come in a variety of colors and sizes (disclaimer: Fuel Freedom really, really does not endorse selfie sticks.)

6. Hats: There are over 294 different ways to accessorize your head. Whether it’s a boat hat, a cowboy hat, or a beret, you have choice.

7. Dresses: Whether it’s gold and white, or blue and black (or as I saw it, turquoise and brown), the dress choices are endless.

8. Chocolate: There are enough chocolate options in the world to make Willy Wonka proud. Seriously – dark chocolate, milk chocolate, sea salt caramel infused chocolate, red velvet chocolate – the list goes on and on.

9. Music: Luckily, we have a tremendous amount of music choice that you can listen to at the drop of a hat (well except for Taylor Swift on Spotify, but that’s OK).

10. Cars: We’re lucky to have a wide variety of car sizes, and brands to drive. Enough types in fact, to find one that works for everyone.

11. Fuels: With so many transportation options, you’d think the same courtesy would be extended to the fuels we put in our car. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. At Fuel Freedom Foundation, we’re working to break the monopoly on transportation fuels and bring you choice to the pump.

Join the movement at www.FuelFreedom.org/take-action.

Muddling through to an ineffective ‘all of the above’ oil and gas strategy

Light Bulb Chalk Board2I used to teach public policy development, while a dean at the University of Colorado. Before that, I was lucky to be involved with colleagues at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other federal agencies in helping develop public policy. Finally, over the years I have had the good fortune to work with federal, state and local governments as well as nonprofit groups and the private sector in carrying out and evaluating programs to implement policies. And I am only 15! Just prematurely gray.

Looking back and thinking forward with Lewis Carroll’s admonition that “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,” I have come to the conclusion that few stated public policies come in packaging marked “this policy emanates from careful thinking and reflects a real understanding of cause and effect relationships and impact.” Most public sector policies, particularly those requiring coordination with other policies, are defined in the context of political scientist Charles Lindblom’s science of muddling through.

Many times, government policies appear guided by political intuition and not solid, pre-announcement analysis. When interagency collaboration and coordination concerning policy development is promised, it is often stated with lots of hope but few specific analyses concerning content and impact.  When analysis occurs, it, many times, is sporadic and sometimes suggests agency protectionism for their institution’s existing initiatives and sort of a “not in my back yard” department syndrome. For example, poverty programs were and remain conflicted, some focusing on fixing the environment and the physical characteristics of neighborhoods for the folks who live in them, some on thinning out neighborhoods through desegregation, mobility and income support. Linking the spatial and non-spatial policies together has been and is now difficult because of agency rivalry and claims that each agency’s policies and programs have significant value. Close coordination, they say, would rob America of program diversity and key public-interest objectives. Granting policy priority to one agency is difficult. We were and are told by involved agencies that the nation needs different approaches for the same folks or problems, even though resulting multiple programs overlapped, and often generated minimal funding for each program and an “all of the above” approach.

In a similar vein, job, health, housing and welfare policies allocated and still allocate lots of money for new facilities and services, in the belief that negative indices concerning wellness, behavior or illness would diminish significantly and pretty quickly. Among and between agencies, programs were and are now sometimes competitive, and most also appear based on a lack of a firm comprehension of what happens if and when the policy and related programs are implemented. Many observers often were, and some remain, surprised that new services could increase need-based statistics by bringing out people who required services, medical and otherwise. Surprise, low-income and or sick people, once without services, were and are now finding services and trying to secure them.  As a result of coming out, they are getting counted for the first time! Absence of careful analysis and relevant data often results in a mismatch between service and household need and policy expectations.

Now, what about energy and transportation fuel policies? The ones in place, and those seemingly desired by different political leaders, reflect the same conflicts, ambiguities and analytical weaknesses. “All of the above” is not a policy. It illustrates the failure of policy-making and the power of different constituencies, of which the most powerful is oil, to weaken the nation’s ability to make effective muddling through choices.

We have subsidized the production of oil and, in effect, its derivative gasoline, when the policy was assumedly to increase drilling and production. Yet we have retained and still retain most of the subsidies, even when we have oil surpluses and many analysts on the right and left indicate the subsidies would not be missed and skew expenditures. We restricted the export of crude oil, when supplies were scarce and security issues were front and center. Perhaps legitimately, we have retained and still retain the barriers to export when the prices are low and reserves among oil companies and the federal government appear relatively high. Maybe this is a legitimate policy because of fears concerning the future security of the U.S. Or maybe it is because of a fear of impending higher gas prices, once the Saudis and OPEC resume historical behavior concerning prices. But from a policy perspective, restrictions on exports are not likely to stand, as pressure builds in Congress to eliminate them.

Some environmental groups, aiming for the perfect and not perfectibility, lessen America’s ability to make strategic choices. Their advocacy of electric and fuel-cell cars, the exclusion of alternative fuels and their critique of natural gas-fired power plants — assuming such advocacy is politically successful — mute the nation’s ability to use alternative fuels as a transitional fuel before electric and fuel-cell cars are ready for prime time and a significant market share. Absent strategic long-term policies integrating alternative fuels with electricity, fuel cells and biofuels, Americans will lose tangible health benefits, environmental improvements, GHG emission reductions, and security options.

Let’s improve the muddle of muddling through. Getting to strategic oil and transportation strategies will involve a good deal of public and interest-group consensus-building, and some willingness to buttress the development with fresh data and analysis — knowing we will never have enough analysis and data to secure absolute wisdom about cause and effect relationships and impact.

We can begin with what we know relatively quickly: The textbooks that students read in high school and college note that America is the land of the free (or almost free) market and the home of risk-taking entrepreneurs. Nope! At least not now with respect to oil and gasoline! Oil companies, behaving like oligopolies, have convinced Congress to turn a deaf ear to policy and legislative options concerning open fuel markets and competition from alternative fuels at the pump. Not good for consumers!

Similarly, the EPA, while indicating that E85 is superior to gasoline concerning most environmental measures, including GHG emissions, has yet to simplify and shorten certification procedures of automobiles for flex-fuel vehicle status. In this context, it has certified only one conversion kit to convert older internal combustion engines to FFV status, resulting in high prices and minimal sales.

EPA has a complex agenda and has initiated many important initiatives to control and reduce GHG emissions and reduce environmental pollution. It has super leadership and bright staff. It’s facing budget constraints and conflicting external and perhaps internal debate over different alternative fuels. Hopefully, it will focus on making the certification processes more efficient, less time-consuming and less costly.

Weaning the nation off of gasoline, as the president has indicated, should be a national goal. It will require, paraphrasing the poet Robert Frost, many miles to go and explicit as well as implicit promises to keep, concerning the science and practice of creating more effective muddling in the creation of national oil and fuel policies. I wish Frost, for the purposes of this column, had used a different word than miles.  But such is life, and he remains one of my favorite poets.

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Some drivers are blending their own ‘premium fuel’

This week I wrote about the sudden, inexplicable rise in gasoline prices in Southern California, and much lower prices for E85 ethanol blend is.

E85 is meant to be used in flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs), or vehicles that have been converted from gasoline-only to run on higher ethanol blends. But we’ve been hearing from drivers around the country who use E85 even if they don’t have an FFV. Although E85 isn’t approved for these vehicles, some consumers, enticed by the many benefits of E85 — the price point, the fact that it’s cleaner and made in America — are happily using it anyway.

Older cars might not be able to use higher ethanol blends (what we call regular gas is E10, meaning it has up to 10 percent ethanol) and run efficiently. There’s a potential for damage to engine parts of some older cars. But some pro-ethanol drivers, especially those who own newer vehicles with sophisticated on-board diagnostics (OBD) computers, have reported no problems.

“Both of my gasoline vehicles use E85 and perform flawlessly,” Jeffrey Matthews of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, wrote in a comment to a lively FFF Facebook post this week. “And both pass the annual emissions test with flying colors.”

Cheryl Near, who with her husband Phil co-owns two fueling stations in Wichita, Kansas, that sell both E10 and E85, says some customers fill up with E85, regardless of their make and model.

“We had a lady that had an older model car, before 2001,” Near, who also appears with Phil in our documentary film PUMP, wrote on Facebook. “I went out to ask her if she knew that she was filling with E85. She told me that she did and that she loves it. Her son logged her mileage for her and they found that her car got BETTER gas mileage on E85. Our pumps are clearly marked so if I see somebody filling with E85 in a non FFV, I will go talk to them. They all know and choose to fill with E85.”

Of course, not everyone has easy access to a station that sells E85. (There are 2,639 such stations in the U.S., according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center’s locator, which you can access through our Fuels 101 section.) There needs to be more stations, that’s one of our goals as a foundation.

Even among those who can find the fuel, what if you wanted to use more ethanol than just puny E10, but weren’t prepared to go full bore with E85?

Some drivers “splash blend” E10 with E85; the sensors in the OBD can determine the properties of the fuel in the tank and adjust the oxygen intake accordingly.

“I use 30-50% E85 no problem,” Jason Fritsche on Facebook.

John Brackett, an automotive engineer who also appears in PUMP, wrote in an e-mail: “Since most E85 actually tests as E70-75, and all other gasoline is E10, the blend is usually about E35-E40. This is a great way to make your own ‘premium fuel.’ ”

E85 is technically any concentration between 51 percent and 83 percent ethanol, depending on the season and the part of the country where it’s sold. Because ethanol has less energy content than pure gasoline, drivers might see anywhere from a 15 to 35 percent dropoff in mpg using E85 compared with E10. Which means you’d have to fill up an extra time every couple weeks.

To achieve a certain target level of ethanol blend, you can use one of several smartphone apps to perform the calculations: E85 Mix Calculator is available on both iTunes and the Google Play store for Android. Another is E85 Calculator on Google.

Ethanol haters beware: Marc Rauch is ready for you

Marc J. Rauch likes to argue. But his best attribute is that he’s patient, willing to wait out an opponent in a debate and lay out the facts to support his position. No matter how long, and how many back-and-forth volleys, it takes.

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Are you talkin’ to me? OK, let’s talk!

This devotion prompted Rauch, the executive vice president and co-publisher of The Auto Channel website, to create a blog on his site called the Ethanol Chronicles. Its purpose is to counter misinformation about ethanol.

It’s a painstaking task, because the myths about the fuel keep sprouting up, like weeds in a driveway: Ethanol will hurt my car’s engine; the fermentation process produces more greenhouse-gas emissions than gasoline; it makes my mpg fall of a cliff; corn-based ethanol takes food out of the mouths of starving babies; corn farmers get rich off subsidies from the government.

The Brooklyn-born Rauch takes these fact-free assertions one by one and eviscerates them.

Take the latest entry on the Ethanol Chronicles, from Tuesday: The submission from someone called “Erocker” is actually 17 separate myths.

Rauch begins his reply with: “All of your points are either outright lies, gross exaggerations, or just plain irrelevant. I presume you found this list somewhere and have merely re-posted it.”

What follows is a lively “Crossfire”-style point and counterpoint that ends with Rauch performing a victorious mic-drop. Many such conversations involving Rauch end this way.

In the first entry on the blog, from July 2, Rauch responds to a laundry list of the usual ethanol jabs, including the subsidy issue, from someone called “Lance.”

It is true that American farmers are among the top beneficiaries of ethanol production; and this is true whether the ethanol is made from corn, sugar, beets, or any other crop. But the thing I always say is that I would rather have my fuel money go to support American farmers than to foreign regimes and terrorist countries. If we’re talking about doing what is best for the U.S., the best is to keep as much money as possible here and to employ and many Americans as possible.

Also, remember that no American service men and women have ever died defending domestic ethanol production and distribution. Depending upon which wars you can subscribe to be oil related it could be said that more than a million Americans have died defending Arab oil countries and Russia.

I welcome any and all replies you would like to make Lance. I only hope you will carefully read what I just wrote and avoid inventing facts or taking my words out of context. If need be, please read the sentences two or three times to get the context correct.

You got served, Lance. See you next time.

Rauch is well-armed with facts and research on ethanol and other biofuels, which makes his job easier.

“Many of the seemingly strongest criticisms of ethanol can be effectively dismissed with the simplest application of common sense and rudimentary mechanical experience,” he told me by e-mail. “It’s as if the critics forgot, or didn’t know, that the problems inherent in internal combustion engines exist with or without the presence of ethanol.”

At the end of the blog — which runs as one long, extended conversation, like an acrimonious cocktail party — Rauch writes, “Check back often for updates to the Ethanol Chronicles blog.”

We will indeed. And we don’t mind the bluster, because made-up facts about ethanol need to be countered, and quickly. This is too important an issue to let falsehoods spread without challenge.

For more of the wit and wisdom of Marc Rauch, check out PUMP the Movie, in which Rauch serves up his usual well-reasoned mots bon about ethanol, national security and other issues that take on the oil monopoly.

 

 

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7 ways our oil addiction is hurting the economy

We spend billions of dollars every year on oil that could be spent on cleaner, cheaper, American-made fuels. The impact of this addiction can be seen throughout our economy in a cycle of job and money loss:

  1. AMERICAN JOBS: When oil prices fluctuate, all levels of the economy are affected. When businesses have to pay more to ship their products because of a spike in fuel prices, they have to cut those costs elsewhere, leading to job loss.
  2. RECESSIONS: Of the 11 recessions in the U.S. since World War II, 10 were preceded by an oil-price spike. By breaking our oil addiction and investing in fuel choice, we can break this cycle.
  3. RELIANCE ON IMPORTS: The U.S. imports about 40 percent of its oil, sending money abroad that could have helped our economy at home. Building up the domestic infrastructure of alternative fuels would spur economic activity, instead of siphoning away billions that flow overseas.
  4. HOUSING: High gas prices hit close to home. As gas prices rise, the value of homes farther away from big cities, according to economist Joe Cortright, begin to devalue as the cost of commuting rises.
  5. WALL STREET: In July 2008, the price of oil hit $147 a barrel, and two months later Wall Street followed suit. In one day, the DOW Jones Industrial Average fell 777 points, ushering in the financial crisis.
  6. FLUCTUATING PRICES:  When gas and oil costs go up, the cost of other products follows. Suddenly, consumers have to pay more for everyday goods that require gasoline or diesel to be shipped. And when we’re spending more on our everyday necessities, we’re spending less on other things we need — delaying big purchases.
  7. LIMITED CHOICES: With no other options (unless you’re driving a flex-fuel or an electric car), the fluctuation of gas prices leaves the average consumer a sitting duck — unable to pay the price, but unable to purchase any other fuel. That’s why bringing fuel choice to the pump is so important.

The U.S. is at the mercy of oil companies as prices fluctuate, impacting our economy, including day-to-day prices for consumers and the overall job market. It’s time to break this cycle of dependence by bringing fuel choice to the pump.

Join the movement: http://www.fuelfreedom.org/take-action/

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California drivers furious at gas prices. Here’s a solution

Southern Californians are in a state of shock. Again. Prices for regular unleaded gasoline shot up literally overnight late last week, and they continued climbing this week: According to GasBuddy.com, the average price for 87-octane gas in the Los Angeles area was $4.155 Monday, up 20 cents from Sunday, and 60 cents over the past week.

At some stations, the disparity was even more of a jolt: At a 76 station in Sherman Oaks, the price went from $3.99 to $4.59 in minutes last Friday; at a Mobil in North Hollywood, it was $4.99. The national average was only $2.78, a benchmark tied to the relatively low price of oil, which stood at $57.85 Monday.

It’s a familiar ritual in SoCal: Prices jump for no apparent reason (at least this time no one can say they weren’t warned); oil companies and refineries offer rationalizations, based on byzantine economic factors; often people in power demand answers, possibly even scheduling some kind of inquiry or legislative hearings; and then prices float back down again, never as quickly as they rose, and consumers forget about what the heck just happened.

The latest explanation, as parroted by many among the local media, is this: There’s a shortage of gasoline inventory, and a drop in fuel imports coming from overseas. California has a cleaner standard for gas than the rest of the country. And by the way, it’s summer, etc. Allison Mac, an analyst for GasBuddy, also said the explosion and fire at the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance back in February has had a lingering effect: “That is still down,” she told NBC4, adding that the refinery accounts for about 10 percent of SoCal’s gasoline supply.

Jamie Court, president of the Santa Monica-based group Consumer Watchdog, suspects price-fixing. “Make no mistake, this is all about pure profits for the oil companies,” he told KTLA-TV. “Crude oil costs are like under $60 a barrel right now. We have four refineries that control 78 percent of the market. All they have to do is pull a couple ships coming in, and the prices go up 60 cents in a night.”

Consumers have a right to be outraged. But many of them are strangely resigned, insisting they have no control over the gyrations of the gas market.

“We have to pay for gas. I mean, like, we’ve got to get around. There’s no getting around it.” — Jaclyn Williams, Van Nuys, to ABC7.

“What are you gonna do? I mean, you gotta … I actually bike to work a couple times a week, so I try to balance it out like that. –- Jason Bielawski, Los Angeles, to Channel 5.

“The price went up real bad. Whose fault is it? Let’s blame somebody,” he joked. “What can we do?” — Frank Zamarripa, Santa Ana, to the Orange County Register.

Drivers don’t have to just take it, and they don’t have to start riding a bike in L.A. traffic (if you do, use a scuba tank). All they have to do is start using E85, which is up to 85 percent ethanol (a cleaner-burning, cheaper fuel) and 15 percent gasoline (the dirtier, crazy-expensive fuel).

E85 nozzle2You might be driving one of the more than 17 million flex-fuel vehicles, which can take any ethanol blend up to E85. Others who don’t own an FFV are filling up on E85 anyway, owing to the attractive price point. There are more than 2,600 stations that sell E85, including many in Southern California. I dropped in at the G&M station at Beach Boulevard and Warner Avenue in Huntington Beach. The station has two Propel Fuels pumps that dispense E85 (Propel the company featured in PUMP the Movie), and the best attribute of ethanol is right there on the marquee:

$2.99. That’s the price G&M was charging Monday for E85, a full dollar less than 87 unleaded.

Despite that differential, the green Propel island was getting no love from customers. Someone had just been there, a truck, it seemed, because it had just pumped 24.7 gallons for $74.00. The other drivers lined up to pay the exorbitant price for gasoline.

They included Janet Martin, a web designer from Laguna Beach, who filled up her Toyota Camry. “I think it’s greed,” she said when asked her theory of high prices. “It seems to get more expensive when it’s tourist season or summer vacation, where people are using their cars more often.

“It’s frustrating, but we have no control. It’s the people up on top, it’s the people who have the money, it’s the people that are in charge of the corporations …”

As long as oil remains our predominant fuel choice, American consumers will continue to be vulnerable to market gyrations. Prices go up and down, sometimes based purely on market forces, other times based on events in the Middle East, other times still based on not much at all. As former Shell Oil president John Hofmeister says: “We will never get past the volatility of oil until we get to alternatives to oil.”

Californians should know this better than anyone by now, and they should be first in line to demand alternatives. Learn more about what you can do at our Take Action page.

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Drive healthy: Keep windows rolled up, hit the recirculate button

If you see someone driving a convertible with the top down on the freeway this summer, you might shout a question at them above the roar of traffic: How’s your health insurance policy?

Driving on congested roadways is unhealthy for all of us, but especially for those who fail to maintain a strong barrier between the cabin and the many toxic emissions spewing out of everyone’s vehicles. The best way to keep air pollution out is to keep the roof on, the windows rolled up, and push that “recirculate” button on the vent control panel.

“If you’re concerned about trying to reduce your exposure, which probably anyone in L.A. who drives very much at all should, it’s not good to have your windows rolled down,” said Scott Fruin, an assistant professor at the University of California’s Keck School of Medicine. “The one exception might be if you have a really old car and it’s just too hot, you don’t have AC or something. But I would say in general, health-wise it’s much better to have your windows rolled up and on recirculate, as much as you can do it.”

Two years ago, Fruin and his USC colleague, research assistant Neelakshi Hudda, published a study in Environmental Science & Technology, showing that using the recirculate button — the one that usually has the round arrow inside it — can reduce the driver’s level of exposure to outside air pollution to 20 percent of on-road levels.

The researchers used a mobile testing vehicle to measure the contaminants coming from tailpipes on some of SoCal’s busiest freeways and other busy roads. The study mostly covered exposure to particulate matter (also called soot), and ultra-fine particles. These are molecules so small that they can actually enter the bloodstream and interrupt the function of individual cells.

Data collected by the team since then has shown the benefits of air recirculation for larger particles, including PM2.5, so named because they’re 2.5 micrometers in diameter.

Of all the tiny pollutants, the science on PM2.5 is the strongest, Fruin said, because it’s easier for instruments to detect.

“With that science, they found a lot of relationships to cardiovascular disease and premature mortality, so that’s what you see in the media now that’s killing 7 or 8 million people worldwide every year, especially in the developing-country cities.”

Air quality isn’t just an issue in developing nations, however: According to the American Lung Association’s 2015 State of the Air report, more than 4 in 10 Americans live in counties where the air is unhealthy to breathe. Vehicle emissions account for about half the air pollution in the United States, and the problem is clearly much worse in urban areas than rural ones.

One of the solutions Fuel Freedom is fighting for is for the increased availability of cheaper, cleaner transportation fuels like ethanol and methanol at the pump, so consumers can have a choice besides only gasoline. Wider adoption of those alternative fuels would reduce the level of toxic compounds being released into the air.

Fruin and his team are quick to note that using the recirculate button for prolonged periods, especially if there’s more than one person in the car, can make the air inside stuffy, owing to the increased level of carbon dioxide exhaled by the occupants. Every 10 or 15 minutes, allow outside air — we won’t call it “fresh” air — to come in.

Of course, filtering out pollution only really takes care of the particles. It can’t stop gaseous toxics from coming in.

“So all the pollutants like nitrogen dioxide or some of the volatile organic carbons like benzene, you’re gonna get a high exposure pretty much no matter what in a car, especially on freeways or in congestion, unless you have a very specialized filter system. … So it’s still important for people to drive less.”

Older cars tend to be more “leaky” with outside air than newer ones. A good rule of thumb to remember — and this goes for houses that are near busy roadways as well — is that if you can hear the noise of traffic, those emissions probably are coming in as well.

“If traffic is loud, you should try to make your home quieter, because that seals it up,” he said. “The same with cars: If you get a lot of traffic noise while you’re driving, chances are your car is leakier.”

hot rod

You have the inalienable right to high octane

It’s road-trip time, America. Even if life, liberty and the pursuit of acceleration aren’t specifically outlined in the Constitution or its 27 amendments, the freedom to drive wherever we want, whenever we want, is deeply ingrained into the national identity.

Some 42 million people plan on traveling at least 50 miles during the holiday weekend, the most since 2007, according to AAA. They’ll enjoy gasoline prices that are at their lowest in years: The national average for a gallon of regular 87-octane gas stood at $2.767 Thursday, 90 cents cheaper than a year ago.

At Fuel Freedom, we believe the best way to drive prices even lower and keep them that way is to introduce fuel choice at the pump. Alcohol fuels like ethanol and methanol are cheaper and cleaner, saving consumers money, cut air-pollution levels and reduce our dependence on oil, one-third of which is imported.

octane22But even if you care about none of those things, there’s this: Ethanol rocks. It pops. It cranks. E85 blend, which is up to 85 percent ethanol and the rest gasoline, increases power and performance in engines, largely because more of the fuel’s energy content is used up when it burns. Because of the high oxygenation of ethanol, the pure form of the alcohol has an octane of 113. E85, whose ethanol content can vary depending on the season, usually has a rating of 105.

In fact, blending ethanol into the nation’s gasoline supply to make E10 is how oil refineries are able to bring the octane of their products up from weak tea to 87, 89 and 91. It also helps clean fuel systems, which is how oil companies were able to get harmful additives (benzene, toluene and xylenes) out of gasoline without sacrificing performance.

High octane is a reason why IndyCar races on E85 and NASCAR runs on E15. It’s a reason why racing and muscle-car enthusiasts put on their mad-scientist caps and convert their prized vehicles to run on E85. Here’s a terrific primer by Hot Rod’s Jeff Smith, and here’s a cool video of a Northern California guy talking jargon at 3,000 RPMs about his E85-converted 1967 Camaro:

So happy 239th birthday, America. It’s a perfect time to declare your independence from oil addiction. Go big, go ethanol, and go forth.

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(Photo credit: FT86club.com)