Thursday, August 28, 2008

What's the EPA's beef?

Why does the EPA want to fine me? (i.e. anyone running more than E10 in their non-FFV).

I think that I've figured it out:

Nonetheless, even when the CEL does not illuminate on the non-FFV burning E85, proper catalytic operation of the catalytic converter for a non-FFV burning higher percentages of E85 may not be achieved as soon as necessary to prevent the emission of some pollution products resulting from burning the gasoline contained in the mixture, especially upon initial cold engine start. This is because the catalytic converter needs to rise to an internal temperature of approximately 300 degrees C before it can 'fire off' and commence its intended catalytic function operation. When burning large amounts of E85 in a non-FFV, the cooler burning characteristics of alcohol fuel than gasoline fuel may delay reaching the 'fire-off' temperature in a non-FFV as quickly as when burning gasoline. Any additional pollution, however, is only going to be emitted for a very short distance when burning E85 in a non-FFV, as the catalytic converter will nonetheless still 'fire off' quite quickly and commence catalytic operation shortly. It is not known whether the small amount of pollution emitted prior to catalytic converter 'fire off' may actually be reduced even during the cold startup phase, as well as once catalytic operation commences, when burning E85 in a non-FFV. Likewise, even once the catalytic converter 'fires off', operation with the CEL illuminated will still result in excess amounts of nitrous oxide being released, greater than when operating the engine on gasoline. The solution is simply to add gasoline, and extinguish the check engine light (CEL), at which time exhaust pollutants will return to within normal limits.

For non-FFVs burning E85 once the CEL illuminates, it is the lessened amount of fuel injection than what is needed that causes the air fuel mixture to become too lean; that is, there is not enough fuel being injected into the combustion process, with the result that the oxygen content in the exhaust rises out of limits, and perfect (i.e., stoichiometric) combustion is lost if the percentage of E85 in the fuel tank becomes too high. It is the loss of near-stoichiometric combustion that causes the excessive loss of fuel economy in non-FFVs burning too high a percentage of E85 versus gasoline in their fuel mix.

Man, the EPA is being a bunch of Nazis because of some cold start emissions?

Well, I stand corrected. Running more than E10 will delay the cat from hitting its light off temperature. There is no doubt about that, at least theoretically.

However, I still contend that, if this were a reality, the second O2 sensor, which monitors the performance of the cat, would know that the cat isn't performing correctly, and throw a CEL.

Is this the "damage" that E85 can cause in a non-flex fuel vehicle?

E85 is a mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Unless your car or truck is designated as a “flex-fuel” vehicle you should not use E85. If you run E85 in older cars (pre-1995 that are designed for gasoline) then your car may be severely damaged. It can cause damage to seals and hoses along with causing corrosion throughout the fuel system. It can also wash lubrication off the engine’s cylinder walls. The hydroxyl group on the ethanol molecule is an extremely weak acid, but it can enhance corrosion for some natural materials.

For ethanol contaminated with larger amounts of water (i.e., approximately 11% water, 89% ethanol), considerable engine wear will occur. This wear is especially harsh during times while the engine is heating up to normal operating temperatures. Just after starting the engine low temperature partial combustion of the water-contaminated ethanol mixture takes place and causes engine wear. This wear, caused by water-contaminated E85, is the result of the combustion process of ethanol, water, and gasoline producing considerable amounts of formic acid (also known as methanoic acid). In addition to the production of formic acid occurring for water-contaminated E85, smaller amounts of acetaldehyde and acetic acid are also formed for water-contaminated ethanol combustion. Of these partial combustion products, formic acid is responsible for the majority of the rapid increase in engine wear.

Engines specifically designed for flex fuels employ soft nitride coatings on their internal metal parts to provide resistance to formic acid wear in the event of water contamination of E85 fuel. Also, the use of lubricant oil (motor oil) containing an acid neutralizer is necessary to prevent the damage of oil-lubricated engine parts in the event of water contamination of fuel. Since older cars are not protected from formic acid the use of E85 is not recommended.

Everything you could ever want to know about ethanol blends


Like I said, there is no evidence that putting more than 10% ethanol in your car (E20, E30, E40, up to E85) does any damage. States like Minnesota and South Dakota have "blender pumps" that dispense E20, E30, and even E40, and there are no reports of damage to any fuel system.

The EPA and the automakers are a bunch of scare mongers on the issue. In the end, I blame fear of lawsuits. They know that damage is unlikely, but they can't take the risk that they're wrong.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Understanding Long Term Fuel Trim

Well, with Hotrod's guidance, I have a much better understanding about what I'm seeing with LTFT on the Scangauge.

When cruising, I am seeing a steady LTFT at 17. With almost 40% ethanol in the tank, that seems a little high. Maybe I'd expect more like 13.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"Hotrod" answers my questions about long term fuel trim

Larry, i.e. "Hotrod" over at e85 forums, answers my questions about what I'm seeing on the Scangauge on Long Term Fuel Trim (LTFT):

Yes those numbers are almost certainly % + corrections to the base fueling, if You create a situation where you go lean you will see a minus sign show in front of the number (at least on my OBDII scanner and ecu)

It varies a bit by car, but most ecu's (engine management units) have about +/- 25% fuel trim authority. That means that when you get to a LTFT of about 20 -25 you will likely trip a CEL as the ecu is adding 20 -25% more fuel than it normally would run to get to its target fuel air mixture.

On my car LTFT is a lot more dynamic than I expected it to be, and I learned to totally ignore the fuel trims until the engine temp was up to full coolant temp, to avoid having issues with cold start enrichment and warm up enrichment. Also ignore it during acceleration because you are seeing acceleration enrichment which is normal.

I finally got in the habit of watching the LTFT's only when I was on light throttle highway cruise, (or at fully warmed idle conditions learn what is normal for both conditions on your car). Stable highway cruise is a condition I know should stabilize out at a stochiometric fuel air mixture, and is usually maintained long enough for you to get a feel for what the average number is.

LTFT is long term only in the perspective of the ECU it actually appears to change quite rapidly as you drive around, the STFT is almost real time, ie if you were to have a misfire on one cylinder it would see the change in mixture and try to compensate for it.

If you push the mixture too far, I would expect you would see the LTFT would peg at what ever is the maximum capability of your system, likely 25% or so, and then you would see the STFT start climbing. At some point the ecu decides this is not a transient issue but a permanent change in the engines tune and needs attention and that is when it trips the CEL. On my car I found the CEL always tripped on steady state highway cruise conditions, as apparently that is when the ecu trusts the value of the fuel trims the most.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The REAL lowdown on the "risk" of running E85 in a non-FFV

This is the best comment I've ever read:

My Take on E85 fuel system wear in Non FFV's.

In 1988 mandates require auto manufacturers to be safe with E10 (10% ethanol) which everyone has been running for years. At this time, the use of vunerable rubbers, eaisly corroded metals, etc was minimized to allow safe operation of vehicles on 10% ethanol. Furthermore, Ehanol is typically only corrsive to modern fuel systems when it is exposed to water (ethnol is, unfortunately attracted to water and readily absorbs water). This is part of the reason all fuel systems are closed, no outside air (minimal) or moisture can enter the system when the gas cap is closed.

An acceptable figure for damaging moisture contect of E85 would be approximately 1%(over a period of time), thats about 1 pint of water would have to be consistently added to every 12.5 gallon tank of gas to obtain any appriciable corrosion in a fuel system 1988 or newer (personally I use 1996 is a benchmark for converting vehicles to E85 without substantial fuel system upgrades, also when OBDII was implemented but this is another subject).

The long and short of it is, fuel system (modern) are very robust, running E85 in a modern engine can be safely done (in my opinion, based on information available to me). After coverting my personal vehicle, a 1998 Toyota Tacoma, and 2nd hand reports of Subaru's running E85 for periords of 2 - 5 years or so, I have seen no physical evidence that rapid deterioration of a fuel system occurs in late model vehicles. One could thorize that over a period of 10 to 20 years an issue could generate but I don't expect to have my Toyota until 2028, it would be 30 years old and by then I hope there will be some better alternatives. Or I will have completely overhauled it anyway.

My experience is based on a Mechanical Engineering Degree and 2 years working for an injection company (several years ago) engineering department conducting durability testing on injectors and pumps.

People expect manufacturers to come out and certify that their cars will be ok but this is never going to happen, no one will take that kind of liability or potential loss of sales etc etc. Converting a vehicle is a personal decision that each person should make based on thier own judgement (and take responsibility for). There is an abundance of mis-information on the web going in both directions and I encourage everyone to weight each source carefully.

Real negative's of running E85

1. reduced mileage per gallon, anywhere from 5-30%, people with turbocharged or supercharged engines have been able to take advantage of higher octane ratings and optimize system performance (mileage, torque and HP) retaining up to 95% of their original fuel economy. In my Toyota 4cyl, I have been getting 18 mpg as opposed to 21-22, but the fuel has been consistently $1 cheaper so it's a win win for me, plus I like more of my money staying in the States.

2. Initially, you will experience the need to change fuel filters several times until all the garbage in the regular gasoline is cleaned from the system. I personaly consider this a good thing. It's not that hard to change a $10 inline filter, I like to cut them open and double check that there is not debris from fuel system parts, so far just sludge from the 125000 miles worth of cheap gas. Some people have had a fuel pump failure from the increased sludge coming out of the take while the E85 is cleaning things out, not common but still a possiblity.

3. When switching between the gas types, you will notice the cars computer taking some time to gradually change parameters, some say about 20 miles or several run cycles. (engine cycles involve the car warming up from cold, not just turning it on and off)

How does a Flex Tek or Full Flex conversion work?

Well, they both work off the same principal per my understanding. In a nutshell oversimplified explanation, a cars computer reads unbonded 02 (from the O2 sensor, go figure). Based on this reading, it just reads O2, nothing else, it assumes that unused O2 means there's more oxygen than fuel and therefore inefficient combustion. The only parameter that the computer can change is the fuel injector duty cycle. Great, why do I need a piggy back computer if the computer can add more fuel by itself. From the factory, computers can usually only adjust fuel rates by +/- 15% to accomodate changes in elevation, fuel quality, etc. Well, it's a fact that E85 contains 25-30% less energy so it stands to reason that about 30% more fuel is required for efficient combustion. So, this piggy back computer simply adds a predetermined (about +15% for this example) to the injector duty cycle. Now, your cars computer can easily adjust from 0 to +30% fuel to accomodate a range from regular unleaded up to E85. People will notice the gradual change in performace as the computer adjusts parameters, thats why it is recommended to run 50/50 mix of E85 and regular unleaded in between regular gas and E85, as the cars computer (OBDII) adjusts parameters gradually and remembers the previous parameters at each startup.

These piggy back computers acheive settings that "gearheads" have been doing for years when modifying and tuning cars but it takes all the guess work, trial and error, dyno time, expensive sensors associated with an expensive ECU or fuel system controller that most of us couldn't handle programming or installing...

E85 is a step in a right direction, easily used in Late model vehicles and even better when included as an OEM feature. The option warrents careful consideration by anyone interested in supporting our local economies, reducing dependence on forign resources, sticking it ot the man (oil companies realize 100 million dollard each and every day in pure profits), reducing polution, 70% at the tailpipe and a modest 20-30% when the entire supply chain is considered.

Interesting Fact, our tax dollars (through subsidies) pay farmers not to farm over 40 million arcres of agricultural land in the United States. Using modern technology and coservative estimates this land alone could alleiviate approximately 50% of US importants on oil. Yeah, the cost of beef might increase a little, so what, at least that money would stay here and our childrens childrens childrens would stand a good chance of having some resources left.

EPA overstepping its authority.

From commenter 2.0T BOI, we find this article about the EPA hassling people who mix E85 in their non-flex fuel vehicles:

What is E30?

E30 is gasoline that contains 30 percent ethanol. The fuel can't legally be put into vehicles that were not made to run on more than 10 percent ethanol.

WARNING: EPA claims the right under the Clean Air Act to fine individual car owners who illegally fill up with a fuel like E30, because the fuel could damage emission control systems, said Dave Ryan, an EPA spokesman. Violations of the law carry potential fines of $2,750. "Depending on the circumstances of each case, there could be cases where the individual motorist would potentially be liable, along with the retailer and/or the retailer's supplier," Ryan said in an e-mail. Ethanol increases the oxygen content of engine exhaust and that can disable a car's emission system if it isn't designed to accommodate the fuel, experts say.

That's a bunch of BS right there. Who are these "experts" and what evidence do they have to say that excess oxygen in the fuel disables the car's emissions system.

I don't think that there is any evidence to say that. In fact, I have 10k miles worth of evidence to the contrary siting in my driveway!

The EPA talks a good game, but they're a bunch of pussies. All the evidence that they need to prosecute someone is RIGHT HERE! I even have the receipts for all the E85 I've bought, and spreadsheets documenting everything. Come and get me. I look forward to challenging their evidence in open court.

Scare mongering about E85 in the local paper

I was wondering how long it would take to get stories about people mistakenly putting E85 in their cars.

Now that there are pumps with E85 and gasoline dispensing capabilities, it will be much easier to mix E85 and gas, but also much easier to fill up with the wrong fuel.

The article was a bunch of BS. If I mistakenly filled up, I would just run the damn thing out. I'd come back to the station every day or two and top off with gas. No need to spend $240 to drain the tank.

Last tank mpg

Forgot to post...

Last tank averaged 25.5 mpg at 31 mph average speed.

Not bad at all!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tank #15

I filled up at Meijer this morning. The pump has been fixed, the keypad worked, and the printer had paper. Woo hoo!

Here are the stats:

Price E85: $3.35
Price 87 Octane gas: $3.85 a gallon

Gallons E85: 6.015
Gallons 87 Octane: 9.164
Gallons left from tank #14 (@~34.77%% ethanol): 1.221

I'm assuming that the E85 is 79% ethanol, 100 octane.

Ethanol content of tank #15: 37.15%%
Octane of tank #15: 93.48

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I've rethought what E85 should cost

I just can't get over how cheap E85 should be, according to my spreadsheet. I think that I'm probably underestimating freight.

Just looking at the NYMEX price for unleaded (currently at $2.86 a gallon), adding in the gas tax and the sales tax, to get Meijer's price of $3.85, you need to add 23 cents per gallon. This is the cost of freight, handling, profit, whatever.

If I add that same factor to my E85 calculation, I get $2.68 a gallon.

I found another website that supposedly has rack prices for ethanol in a number of states. For example, it has the rack price in Indiana as $2.52 right now. Using that number, and picking 12 cents per gallon as freight, I get an E85 price of $2.81.

Either way, that's significantly cheaper than the $3.35 that Meijer is currently charging for E85.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Scangauge update

I played with my new toy on the way to work this morning.

Horsepower, O2, and fuel trim all work. Torque, A/F ratio, the post-cat O2, and knock retard do not. I'll have to work on finding some alternative codes for those.

Fuel trim was all over the place. Short term fuel trim was anywhere from -5 to 5. Long term fuel trim was 12 at idle and as much as 20 on acceleration. I was surprised that LTFT varried as much as it did.

O2 was also all over the place, anywere from 8 to 70. Not quite sure what that means, or even what the units are!

What SHOULD E85 Cost? 8/18 edition

How about $2.32 a gallon?

It's about a dollar more than that at Meijer now.

One word: GOUGING!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fun with the Scangauge

I successfully added short term fuel trim, long term fuel trim, and lambda from the O2 sensor to the Scangauge.

I also added the second O2 sensor (after the cat), horsepower, torque, and air fuel ratio, but I didn't get to test them to see if they work.

Long term fuel trim is 12, whatever that means. Short term fuel trim was 0 or 1.

Could it be that 12 means 12%, and the injectors are 12% over their normal duty? Makes sense to me. That would be about right for 30% ethanol.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Scangauge pic

I REALLY like this thing. Currently, I'm displaying instant mpg, ignition advance, manifold absolute pressure, and open/ closed loop.

I'm going to download the codes to add fuel trim and the O2 sensor to the display.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Scangauge II installed

I got the Scangauge II in the mail yesterday evening, and I installed it that night. I need to post a picture of the install, it's pretty slick.

Coolest thing is that it shows boost right out of the box. It measueres manifold pressure, in PSI(a). At full boost, it was showing 25 psi(a), which is 10 lbs. of boost. Sweet!

It also shows if you're in closed loop or open loop. Even half throttle gets you into open loop. Not a good thing if you're using a lot of ethanol!

It can show a number of other parameters right out of the box: ignition advance, water temp, intake temp, voltage, fuel consumption, fuel pressure, etc.

Fuel trim is not available out of the box. It needs to be added manually. I need to go over to the website and figure out how to do it.

All in all, it's a VERY slick package. Just having boost is worth the price of admission.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

I ordered the Scangauge II

I finally bit the bullet and ordered the Scangauge II from Amazon. It set me back $160, no tax, no shipping fees.

My wife's van has an intermitant problem with the ABS (light comes on then goes out) that I want to troubleshoot with a scanner.

And then, of course, I get to use it to see the fuel trim when running E85!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Tank #14

I filled up at GAS CITY!!! yesterday morning. Here are the stats:

Price E85: $3.60
Price 87 Octane gas: $3.99 a gallon

Gallons E85: 5.527
Gallons 87 Octane: 9.747
Gallons left from tank #12 (@~32.12%% ethanol): 1.126

I'm assuming that the E85 is 79% ethanol, 100 octane.

Ethanol content of tank #13: 34.77%%
Octane of tank #13: 93.77

Thursday, August 7, 2008

I sold a man on E85!

So at Gas City, I was a little confused. I figured that they'd have one pump for E85, out of the way. So I asked a guy who looked like he might work there where the E85 pump was.

Well, it turned out that he wasn't an employee, but he wanted to know what E85 was. And it turned out that he drove a flex fuel Impala. He filled up with E85 just because of me!


My first trip to Gas City

So I checked out Gas City on Calumet in Hammond, Indiana. It's WAAAAAAY nicer than Miejer. Every single pump is E85 capable. Instead of selling mid-grade, they sell E85. Pumps are newer, and they're in excellent shape.

Now the downside: Gas City gouges worse than Meijer! They sell E85 for 40 cents less than regular. Worse, they sell regular for 15 cents more than Meijer! I think that Gas City caters to people coming over from Illinois, and those customers are willing to pay quite a bit more than Hoosiers.

Even so, Gas City is not that far out of my way (maybe 2 miles total, and they're all on the Bohrman), I like their pumps, and the whole experience was pretty nice. I might go back!

Meijer makes it hard to be a customer

Besides gouging us, Meijer is not maintaining its sole solitary E85 pump.

I was totally out of gas (car said 24 miles to empty. YIKES!). I pulled up to the pump at Meijer, and there was a sign that said that the card reader AND printer were not working. No pay at the pump.

I decided to go to Gas City instead. I've been meaning to check them out, this was a great excuse to give them a shot.