It’s official: ethanol-petrol blends are worse than diesel

It’s official: ethanol-petrol blends are worse than diesel

It’s a contentious statement, but one that is the subject of research by RAND. They found that new diesel and hybrid cars give a greater benefit over E85 ethanol-petrol blends (85% ethanol). Of course, we don’t get E85 in NZ yet, so it’s not so relevant for us, but it’s interesting in the scheme of things with automakers trying to establish which environmental niche they will side with.

Here’s part of the report which tested three types of vehicles (car, SUV, light truck)

Among the key findings from the consumer perspective:

  • For all three vehicle types, the advanced diesel offers the highest savings over the life of the vehicle among the options considered. These savings increase with the size and fuel use of the vehicle: $460 for the car, $1,249 for the SUV and $2,289 for the large pick-up truck;
  • The hybrid option has smaller but still considerable savings for SUV applications ($1,066), moderate savings for pick-up applications ($505) but minimal savings over the life of the vehicle for car owners ($198);
  • The vehicles operating on E85 cost all three owners more over the vehicle life, with a greater net cost burden for larger vehicles and increased fuel consumption: (-$1,034 for cars, -$1,332 for SUVs, -$1,632 for pick-ups).

Both the hybrid and diesel vehicles are more fuel efficient than their gasoline-powered counterparts: 25 to 40 percent better for hybrid and 20 to 30 percent for diesel, depending on the vehicle.

“While it is assumed that the hybrid vehicle will save more fuel than the advanced diesel, the overall advantage goes to the diesel because of its lower technology costs and better performance such as increased torque,” Graham said. “For E85, it is the cost of producing the fuel, not vehicular changes, that drives the negative results.”

The key findings from the societal perspective are similar to those of the consumer perspective, including:

  • The advanced diesel again shows the most promise, particularly for the larger vehicles: $289 for cars, $1,094 for SUVs and $2,199 for large trucks.
  • The net benefits for hybrids are somewhat less positive, with moderate-to-small values of $481 for SUVs and $132 for light trucks, and an increased cost for cars (-$317) over the life of the vehicle
  • Results for E85 remain uniformly negative, even more so for larger than smaller vehicles: -$1,046 for cars, -$1,500 for SUVs and -$2,049 for light trucks

“While the net benefit of E85 is generally unfavorable compared to hybrid and advanced diesel technology, the diesel’s edge over the hybrid is not as significant,” Graham said. “If the cost of hybrid technology falls significantly, the benefits of the hybrid could equal or exceed the diesel.”

The report finds that E85 does not generate net societal benefits unless a breakthrough reduces ethanol production costs or gas prices stay near their current high levels for a sustained period of time.

It’s a contentious statement, but one that is the subject of research by RAND. They found that new diesel and hybrid cars give a greater benefit over E85 ethanol-petrol blends (85% ethanol). Of course, we don’t get E85 in NZ yet, so it’s not so relevant for us, but it’s interesting in the scheme of things with automakers trying to establish which environmental niche they will side with.

Here’s part of the report which tested three types of vehicles (car, SUV, light truck)

Among the key findings from the consumer perspective:

  • For all three vehicle types, the advanced diesel offers the highest savings over the life of the vehicle among the options considered. These savings increase with the size and fuel use of the vehicle: $460 for the car, $1,249 for the SUV and $2,289 for the large pick-up truck;
  • The hybrid option has smaller but still considerable savings for SUV applications ($1,066), moderate savings for pick-up applications ($505) but minimal savings over the life of the vehicle for car owners ($198);
  • The vehicles operating on E85 cost all three owners more over the vehicle life, with a greater net cost burden for larger vehicles and increased fuel consumption: (-$1,034 for cars, -$1,332 for SUVs, -$1,632 for pick-ups).

Both the hybrid and diesel vehicles are more fuel efficient than their gasoline-powered counterparts: 25 to 40 percent better for hybrid and 20 to 30 percent for diesel, depending on the vehicle.

“While it is assumed that the hybrid vehicle will save more fuel than the advanced diesel, the overall advantage goes to the diesel because of its lower technology costs and better performance such as increased torque,” Graham said. “For E85, it is the cost of producing the fuel, not vehicular changes, that drives the negative results.”

The key findings from the societal perspective are similar to those of the consumer perspective, including:

  • The advanced diesel again shows the most promise, particularly for the larger vehicles: $289 for cars, $1,094 for SUVs and $2,199 for large trucks.
  • The net benefits for hybrids are somewhat less positive, with moderate-to-small values of $481 for SUVs and $132 for light trucks, and an increased cost for cars (-$317) over the life of the vehicle
  • Results for E85 remain uniformly negative, even more so for larger than smaller vehicles: -$1,046 for cars, -$1,500 for SUVs and -$2,049 for light trucks

“While the net benefit of E85 is generally unfavorable compared to hybrid and advanced diesel technology, the diesel’s edge over the hybrid is not as significant,” Graham said. “If the cost of hybrid technology falls significantly, the benefits of the hybrid could equal or exceed the diesel.”

The report finds that E85 does not generate net societal benefits unless a breakthrough reduces ethanol production costs or gas prices stay near their current high levels for a sustained period of time.

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