Flex Fuel – Using Ethanol and Methanol in Cars

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Steve Huntley had a thought provoking piece a weed ago Tuesday.

It’s called Fuel Choice and is promoted by a group called Set America Free.

The pitch is that Congress should mandate that a significant portion of new car engines be able to burn ethanol and methanol. The cost per car would be $100, Huntley says.

Virtually all know that most ethanol comes from corn, but other crops can be used as well.

Methanol comes from natural gas and coal, both products in great supply in the USA.

The idea of using ethanol for fuel took me back to 1982, when I ran an unsuccessful race against Robert C. McClory for Congress.

I became convinced that alcohol could be the fuel of the future.

Two men in Elgin, Herb Hansen and Elgin Police Department Sergeant Dale Pate invented a system to fuel cars with 85% ethanol and 15% water.

The problem with distilling alcohol is getting the last little bit of water out of the liquid. If one did not have to eliminate all by a very small part of a percentage point, I figured that it would be easier and cheaper to distill. You might even be able to do it your back yard.

The system was installed in a Pinto and worked fine, except for one bitterly cold winter night when it stalled at the corner of Route 120 and Greenwood Road. Fortunately, the farmer on the northwest corner of the intersection opened his door and let me call Graves Towing to get it home to 360 S. Madison Street in Woodstock.

There was a big impediment to commercialization, however, besides the vehicle’s smelling like a still when it was driven.

Very, very few places sold ethanol.

Farm Service did in Woodstock. When I drove to Springfield, I found the FS facility in Kendall County did, too. The only other place I discovered ethanol at a pump was a station east of Route 53 on Route 14.

That was almost thirty years ago.

In the meantime, wouldn’t you think those who stood to gain financially would have done something more than get big subsidies passed in places like the Illinois General Assembly? (A $1 billion subsidy over a ten year period was signed by Governor Rod Blagojevich in his first year in office.)

Why not purchase some alcohol burning vehicles in Brazil and bring them to the Chicago area, wrap them in appropriate advertising and get someone to commute every day in them on the major expressways?

Why not convince GM and Ford to sell their alcohol burners in Chiagoland?

Instead of pouring a billion dollars into ADM and other distilleries, why not subsidize the purchase of such cars? (I’m not sure I would have supported that approach, but it makes a whole lot more sense than giving a couple of huge companies huge subsidies.)

Why not rent tanks in independent filling stations so ethanol could be dispensed to those vehicles?

The idea Huntley advances may be a good one. It may be the best one to wean us from dependence on foreign oligopolists, but it won’t work if people can buy the ethanol and methanol.

Methanol, by the way, was being burned off by refineries in 1982.

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