The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

The Irrelevance Of BTU Rating - Revisited

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
Er, elephants!
What does this have to do with elephants?

By Marc J. Rauch
Executive Vice President/Co-Publisher

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
Marc J. Rauch
Ever since I seriously contemplated the issue, and started writing about the irrelevance in the difference of energy content between gasoline and ethanol for internal combustion engines, I've had some very funny and spirited exchanges with individuals who are quick to defend petroleum-based engine fuels (gasoline and diesel fuel). Often, the exchanges are with persons claiming to be mechanical engineers or chemical engineers.

Early on, I would be challenged to prove the existence of any reliable sources supporting my supposition. As time went by, I would supplement my own deductions with references to previous statements and findings that confirmed my position. In some cases people were convinced and went on to argue about other things; in some instances the references I used were attacked. As I would add in more supportive sources of information the attacks would become more hostile.

After I wrote and published "The Irrelevance Of BTU Rating - Big Oil's Gimmick To Hoodwink The Public", which included references that date back to more than a hundred years ago, the attacks suggested that I was relying on people or information that is too old. I always found this comment to be ironic since the opinion that gasoline and diesel fuel will produce the highest miles per gallon - due to energy content - is based upon old information that was relevant to powering steam engines (not internal combustion engines).

My view is that the references I cited aren't too old, they simply prove that the irrelevance of energy content in internal combustion engines has been known for a very, very long time; that it didn't originate with me. The knowledge has simply been shunted aside by the overwhelming voice that the big wallet and political power of the petroleum oil industry can generate.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

In preparation for a new book that I've put together (a collection of my reports and essays on ethanol), I thought I would submit an addendum to "The Irrelevance Of BTU Rating - Big Oil's Gimmick To Hoodwink The Public" with the statements that I often use when discussing this issue face-to-face.

The issue comes down to this: If all internal combustion engines (ICE), regardless of how the fuel is ignited, and regardless of how the engine is tuned and adjusted, achieved peak efficiency (miles per gallon of fuel) when using the highest energy-content fuel, then it could be said that energy density of the fuel is significant and a primary factor. However, this is not the case. A spark-ignited internal combustion engine that is optimized (tuned/adjusted/outfitted with the appropriate fuel injector) to run on ethanol will achieve equal or better MPG than the same engine optimized to run on gasoline.

Furthermore, in the case of compression-ignited internal combustion engines (diesel engines), biodiesel that contains about 10% less energy content than petrol-diesel will deliver the same MPG without any adjustments to the engine.

Let's look at this a different way: Let's say that the development of internal combustion engines followed the original course set by Samuel Morey, Nicholas Otto, and Rudolph Diesel; and ICE machines continued to be powered by alcohol, alcohol/wood turpentine blends, or nut oils. Engine technology would have developed just as it has, except that the engines would have been designed and built to be ethanol-optimized (ethanol can be used to produce biodiesel fuel).

A hundred years goes by and someone says, "Hey guys, instead of using ethanol to power our vehicle engines, let's try this new concoction made from the same gooey stuff we use to make asphalt; lets give it a quirky name...we'll call it gazoline. And because the gazoline has a higher energy density than ethanol, we'll probably get much better MPG."

So they fill their fuel tanks with the gazoline and they do a road test with assorted vehicles to determine MPG. But when they return and calculate the miles traveled and the fuel used, they would find that their vehicles using gazoline got fewer miles per gallon than with ethanol. They scratch their heads and they consult a mechanical engineer and possibly a chemical engineer. The engineer(s) ponders the information. The results defy everything they were taught in school. He (or she) would be confused. He/she would say, "I don't get it, the gazoline has more energy content per gallon than ethanol; when I use the gazoline as fuel to heat water it boils the water faster than the same amount of ethanol. It must produce more miles per gallon, but it doesn't."

Eventually, the engineer(s) would make alterations to the vehicle engines to fit the characteristics of how gazoline is ignited and burned. At that point, the engineer(s) would say, "Wow, when it comes to internal combustion engines, energy content...that is, energy other words, BTU rating...doesn't matter. What matters most is how the engine is optimized."

I'm not saying that gasoline and diesel fuel doesn't have a higher energy content; I'm not saying that the BTU measuring system is faulty; I'm saying that BTU rating (energy content) is irrelevant when it comes to internal combustion engines, and the oil industry's entire story of greater energy content is just a marketing scam to sell the poison they call gasoline and diesel fuel. It's said that elephants "never forget"... neither should the public. The oil industry is only interested in themselves...not the general public, not their specific customers, and not for any national ideals.