An ad promoting a trip to Glacier National Park

This is not a new subject, but one that came to mind recently when I had a hard time finding gasoline that wasn’t blended with 10 percent ethanol: does the ethanol-laced product reduce your gas mileage as much as mine?

I’m one of those folks who always check such things. With my old Malibu, I used to average around 29-30 mpg for most tanks. When I bought fuel with 10% ethanol, the mileage inevitably fell off about three miles per gallon.

I’ve been driving a Prius for a while now, and have a similar experience. Instead of the 49-50 mpg I normally get for routine driving, mileage drops to 45-46 when I buy gas with ethanol added. The owner’s manual pointedly does not recommend fuel containing ethanol, but sometimes it’s hard to find anything else.

This strikes me as strangely illogical. In an effort to reduce reliance on foreign oil, the U.S. Congress passed an Energy Policy Act in 2005 that called for a rapid increase in domestic production of ethanol — up to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012. Some states (including Missouri, Minnesota, and Hawaii, with Florida on the way) now require all gas to be blended with ethanol. Since most ethanol has been made from corn, that drove up the price of corn, which raised the cost of many food products and reduced the amount of food aid both here and abroad.

Aside from that unfortunate side effect, and some studies showing that it takes more energy to make ethanol than you can get out of it, I’m still bothered by the logic of investing so much effort into producing a fuel additive that effectively makes one’s car less efficient. Even if government-backed ethanol keeps the price of fuel a few pennies lower, the poorer mileage makes it a bad deal because we have to buy more gas to go the same distance. If we want to lower our dependence on foreign oil, it seems to me we’d be better off focusing on fuel efficiency and mass transit than the production of an alternate but inferior fuel.

I’m just wondering if others have had a similar experience with significantly lower gas mileage when using fuel blended with ethanol. Maybe it’s just me.

[Image from the Vermont Clean Cities Coalition site.]

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