Old man Jay Leno wants to crap on the environment to make sure 100 year old cars can still run

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Imagine if computer technology was being held back by the need to include a 3.5″ floppy disk drive on all of the latest computers. Hey – how are Macbook Air users going to exchange Cardfile data without a floppy drive? You’d think I was insane, right?

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Which is why it is bizarre to see this piece by American comedian Jay Leno in Autoweek arguing that American fuel standard rules requiring ethanol to be mixed in with petrol is bad – because his collection of vintage cars struggle with it. He wants to bring back the old, more polluting fuel instead.

Millionaire Leno explains the hardships he faces every day because of the ethanol requirements:

“As someone who collects old cars, and keeps them up religiously, I am now replacing fuel-pressure regulators every 12 to 18 months. New cars are equipped with fuel lines that are resistant to ethanol damage, but with older cars, the worst can happen—you’re going down the road, and suddenly your car is on fire.”

I know its hard, but hold back your tears. But why should we stop using all of that asbestos, just because it is a little bit poisonous?

The reason ethanol was mandated in the first place was for two major reasons: First and foremost, it cuts down on the amount of fossil fuels needed to run a car, and secondly, according to Phys.org, it is better for the environment, emissions-wise:

“According to the U.S. Department of Energy, nearly half of all the gasoline sold in the U.S. contains up to 10 percent ethanol, which not only boosts octane but also helps meet federally mandated air quality requirements. By promoting more complete fuel combustion, this small amount of ethanol mixed into gasoline reduces exhaust emissions of carbon monoxide — a regulated pollutant linked to smog, acid rain, global warming and other environmental problems — by as much as 30 percent compared with pure gasoline.”

Whilst obviously not as good for the environment as pure electric cars, it is a good start – and all modern cars apparently have engines capable of handling the mixed fuel.

The problem, as Leno has identified, is with older cars. And we’re not talking about cars from a few years ago (like you have an “old phone” from 2007) – we’re literally talking cars from the 1920s.

Its a cause that has Leno so animated, he wants to take political action too:

“It’s time for us as automobile enthusiasts to dig in our heels and start writing to our congressmen and senators about the Renewable Fuel Standard, or we’ll be forced to use even more ethanol. Most people assume, “Oh, that’ll never happen. They’ll never do that.” Remember prohibition? In 1920, all the saloons were closed. It took until 1933 before legal liquor came back.”

Clearly perspective is always going to be a challenge for a man with such a disproportionately-sized chin, but I can’t help but wonder if this is a little selfish? Here we have a technology that is demonstrably helping the environment (or at least not making things as bad as they could be), but Leno is saying “no” because it makes his hobby a little bit more difficult. There might even be valid scientific criticisms of ethanol (hey, I’m not a scientist), but Leno isn’t even predicating his argument on that – he’s just crying like a baby.

I sure hope that Leno’s Ford Model T can float, as it might need to when the ice caps melt.

James O’Malley

2 comments

  • “It is better for the environment, emissions-wise” Yeah, exactly – “emision-wise.” Good, careful, misleading selection of words. If you consider the total environmental impact, then the overall impact of ethanol production is actually worse. Ethanol requires massive amounts of land and water to produce, and it
    generates more lifecycle emissions than gasoline. Google it!

  • The kind of ethanol added to gasoline is anhydrous, which is basically moonshine with the last few percentage points of water removed because gasoline (oil) and water don’t mix. You say ethanol has a third less energy content than gasoline, which translates into a 33% mileage loss over gasoline. When added to gasoline at a ratio of 10% (E10), it’s claimed to cause 3% mileage loss. But that doesn’t explain how 100% ethanol, even hydrous ethanol (moonshine with the water left in it), does not cause a 33% mileage loss in a high compression engine.

    What’s really behind the loss of mileage with E10 has already been mentioned, oil and water don’t mix, meaning the hydrocarbon chain connecting gasoline to ethanol is very weak, so weak that too much water causes a “phase separation”. This is where the ethanol and water sink to the bottom of the tank with the gasoline floating on top of it, which causes a great deal of damage to engines. What no one talks about is what happens even with the bare minimum exposure to water, even normal water vapor in the atmosphere that fuel is exposed to in the piston chamber. This causes that weakly connected hydrocarbon chain to break so there are too distinct fuels being fired. So when the spark plug ignites what is supposed to be 87 octane fuel, the ethanol is now at 113 octane and the gasoline 83 octane. This is because in order to achieve an 87 octane balance when adding 113 octane ethanol at 10%, the gasoline it’s added to is 83 octane.

    Low compression engines, like those that use regular gasoline, cannot compensate for a fuel mix of 113 and 86 octane at the same time, it’s impossible. This results in the claimed 3% mileage loss along with high emissions of acetaldehyde and formaldehyde. I t also causes hotter running engine because so much of the fuel is not combusting, it’s rather burning. The truth however is it causes a greater loss than 3%. Depending on the type fuel, engine, and ignition system, most suffer a 10% mileage loss or greater, meaning adding ethanol to gasoline at 10% by volume is a total wash even if it didn’t require any energy to produce. This is while hydrous ethanol causes no mileage loss, meaning the whole Midwest could be gasoline free using their own self sustaining 100% ethanol fuel rather than lobbying the federal government to force the rest of us to truck or train it to our regions so it can be used to ruin our fuels.

    To sum it up, even if ethanol came out of the ground ready to be added to gasoline, even if it fell like rain or magically appeared in our fuel tanks already mixed with our gasoline, it would still do more harm than good.

    On federal mandates driving commodities markets, ethanol forces high demand for corn, which means higher corn prices. So more farmers will grow corn over other crops. This means less of other crops coming to market, which drives their prices up as well. And the fact that ethanol is not just a drain on the economy because it requires more energy to produce than gives back in power, that is if we believe it works as a fuel, which it does not, this means our cheap energy model is broken, which drives down the value of the dollar. “That’s absurd, if this was true, the dollar would have started sinking as quick as mandated ethanol use began in the Spring of 2006,,,,,,, well I’ be, I just checked and that’s where the dollar started to decline, and kept declining the more ethanol was produced and making it’s

    ay into gasoline supplies”

    Exactly, and a weaker dollar means higher prices for imports like oil. Not only that, but with all these federal mandated forces pushing markets in directions that can’t be stopped, it invites speculators into commodities so already rising prices went that much higher.

    Cheap energy and food are hallmarks of our economic model. Our formally unsubsidized low wage work force was founded on three floating variables, cheap energy, especially gasoline so workers can afford to drive to work; cheap food so they can feed themselves and their families; and affordable rent. Also a strong second hand market in cheap hand me down products like used cars, thrift stores, classifieds, and yard sales, all allow low wage workers a full flavor taste of the American Dream. Change any of them so workers can no longer afford to sustain themselves on unskilled wages and our financial markets start to come unraveled. We either have to import cheap labor or subsidized the work force we have, or both, which is what we’ve been doing.

    This is all predicated on one central factor working against all the rest, not just a fuel additive that doesn’t work, and would be a bad idea even if it did what it’s promised to do, it’s a federal mandated fuel product that can’t be competed against. So when it points markets downhill, that’s where they will go, not only meaning nothing can stop it, but everyone knows where’s it’s all heading. So of course markets respond by investing somewhere else, which is correct, why back a dying horse, a horse that’s being poisoned by it’s owner when it’s safer to take chances overseas or betting against US markets.

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