My dearest Nancy made me watch 4 hours worth of 10.5: Apocalypse between Sunday night and last night. It's our special bond. She loves the campy disaster movies and I make fun of them with her. According to NBC's website the entire movie was filmed in High Definition, which "achieves a whole new level of visual affects and style that has not previously been achieved on network television." Frankly, they should probably work on their HD technique if they want people to buy more HDTV. I thought most of the effects (I hesitate to use the adjective 'special' in this case) were low quality CGI. I actually turned to Nancy at one point and said, "That effect could have been a little more special."
After watching four hours of any major network, it's pretty easy to see who's paying their bills. The big push we both noticed came from Chevy. And Chevy, in a desperate attempt to convince people that buying gigantic SUVs is still OK, is pushing E85 like there's no tomorrow. This prompted several discussions between us about how much petroleum it really takes to make E85. We both knew it was a fair amount. It turns out it's damn near 1 to 1. Hillary Clinton wants to have E85 at half of the gas stations in the U.S. by the year 2015. But does this make sense? Not really, according to The Oil Drum (nicely summarized by Cyclelicious below:
Our annual gasoline consumption is up to almost 140 billion gallons. That means on a BTU equivalent basis, converting the entire US corn crop into ethanol would amount to 13.4% of our annual gasoline demand. It takes 77,228 BTUs of fossil fuel inputs to make 83,961 BTUs of "green, renewable" ethanol. That means that in reality, using our entire corn crop would only displace 1% of our annual gasoline consumption. We can't possibly produce enough E85 to justify putting in all those pumps.
OK, so maybe it's just a fair trade. But E85 burns cleaner than oil, so that should make it better even if it's no more efficient, right? Perhaps. I might buy that arguement if there were more than 700 places in the entire country where you can buy E85 (200 are in Minnesota alone, leaving approximately 10 stations for each of the remaining 49 states). So even if your new Silverado is E85 ready, you can't hardly buy the stuff if you want to. And the best part? E85 is actually decreasing the overall fuel economy of the average car. How? This is a two part answer.
The first part involves Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE). CAFE, in simple terms, mandates that the cars made by a manufacturer need to meet an average MPG of 27.5 mpg. So for every 14mpg Silverado that gets manufactured, the company needs to make a 41 mpg Aveo to offset it. Under the Alternative Motor Fuels Act (AMFA), auto manufacturers receive a 1.2 mile per gallon credit toward their CAFE requirements. So instead of making that Aveo get 41mpg, now it only needs to get 39.8. But since E85 isn't widely available, most of these vehicles are running on plain old gas. And the manufacturers know this will be the case. So they design the cars to run better on gas than on E85. Wouldn't want somebody to buy an E85 vehicle, not be able to find E85, put regular in and then think the performance sucks. So the 1.2 mpg credit simply amounts to vehicles that have an average CAFE of 1.2 mpg less.
The second part, where it really gets fun, is when people actually do make an effort to use E85. "The flex-fuel Chevrolet Impala equipped with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine gets an EPA-estimated 23/31 mpg (city/highway) on gasoline and 16/21 mpg when burning E85" according to cars.com. Plus E85 costs more, mile per mile. cars.com estimates that if gas costs $3 per gallon, E85 would need to be priced at $2.15 per gallon for a motorist to break even due to the decreased mileage.
So Chevy, thanks but no thanks on the Flex Fuel Vehicles. I'll keep burning up brontasaurauses until somebody comes up with something better. And riding my bike.