E-Fuel, The Latest Distraction and Threat to Ethanol Acceptance
We don't need another stinking diversion from the real thing!
By Marc J. Rauch
Author of THE ETHANOL PAPERS
Exec. Vice President/Co-Publisher
THE AUTO CHANNEL
In December 2009, my business partner, Bob Gordon, wrote an editorial for TheAutoChannel.com titled "Electric Vehicles, Solution or Diversion." The premise of this insightful piece, which both Bob and I have referred to many times since, is that personal electric vehicles are not, and will not, be ready for mass private ownership for a long time - a few decades, maybe the better part of a century, perhaps never. Some astute people in the oil industry and the automobile industry know this, as evidenced by the sporadic pessimistic, yet realistic assessments from automakers that have snuck out over the past 15 years or so. If you missed these gloomy revelations it's probably because they're buried by an avalanche of overly-optimistic, un-realistic proclamations of an electric vehicle future just around the corner.
The oil industry has played their hand a little cooler. They know that there's nothing wrong with the internal combustion engine (ICE), and that regardless of all the electric car hysteria, mobile and stationary internal combustion engines will be with us for a long time. These engines will still require a liquid fuel for a long time.
But knowing that an electric vehicle future is not just around the corner has not dissuaded automakers or the oil industry from participating in the deception. Why, you may ask?
FROM THE AUTOMAKER'S PERSPECTIVE (Based on my study and business experience)
New light-vehicle sales (cars, pick-ups, SUVs, and vans) are stagnant. They've been stagnant for nearly half a century. For example, despite the U.S. population increasing by about 50% from 1976 to today, new light vehicle sales have stayed pretty much the same. As the graph below (from Statista.com) shows, new vehicle sales remained in the same annual range. Median and average sales per year stayed at a little over 14 million units.
Automakers need a paradigm shift, they need a windfall. They need something that breaks sales out of the rut it's been in. They need annual sales in the U.S. and other traditional markets to increase 50%, 100%, 200% per year, year-to-year. The only way to accomplish this is if a significant part of the existing on-road fleet changes out over each year. New audio systems won't be enough reason to stimulate the change; new upholstery fabrics won't do it; re-designed LED headlights are not the seismic innovation that cause millions of vehicle owners to literally abandon their fully-functioning automobiles for something new. There has to be a totally revolutionary, life-changing, hair-restoringly wonderful, fountain-of-youth transformative event. Unfortunately, magic wands and Aladdin's lamps are in very short supply.
The opening of China as a consumer market looked (looks) promising, but financial complications, political considerations, and intense competition to working with and in a communist dictatorship have dulled the edge on possible financial spikes.
General Motors believed that they would be the big winner in China. Armed with federal bailout money and bankruptcy reprieves, they rushed headlong into the Chinese adventures - after all, the former Emperor of China is said to have loved Buicks. But someone forgot to tell GM that communist dictators and their followers are not big on divine-right royalty (just ask the last Russian Czar and his family - oops, I guess you can't ask them as they were all executed).
As a result, GM vehicles are pretty much an afterthought to China's car buyers. They seem to prefer automobiles from other parts of Asia, Germany, and their own Chinese brands. For example, in 2019, the Buick Excelle GT was the #7 best selling car in China. That seems pretty okay, but consider that Volkswagen had 4 separate models that placed in the top ten list: #1, #6, #8, and #9. The other five vehicles in the Top Ten list were all Asian. The four Volkswagen models out sold the one Buick model by about 5-to-1. No other GM products made the Top Ten list. (SEE: China's Best Selling Car Models)
The situation in China for Ford and Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep vehicles in China has been even more dire because they don't have any vehicles in the top 10 best selling list. A more recent sales report presented by Carssalesbase.com provides a ranking of 86 automobile brands in China (many of the brands are unfamiliar, even to me). Buick is #8. Ford is #22, Cadillac is #23, and Chevrolet is #24. Lincoln is #35, and Jeep is #49. Not anywhere on the list are Chrysler or Dodge. The bad news doesn't stop with these negligible positions because the list only includes vehicles that are produced in China (cars built outside of China only amount to 5% of total car sales. Therefore, even the brands that are typically associated as being "American" are not built in America. American workers are not used, there is virtually no significance to the American economy.
Incidentally, although the rankings seem to tell a very good story for VW, remember that their entire group (including Audi and Porsche) is still feeling the effects of their "diesel scandal." They have a long ways-to-go to make up for the worldwide financial and reputation damage they suffered. Moreover, while I personally think that VW group vehicles are the best driving cars in the world, how much can we really trust their technology and performance claims moving forward?
Consequently, hopes for a miraculous windfall have now settled on the idea of replacing large swaths of existing gasoline and diesel powered internal combustion engine vehicles with new (supposedly) clean electric vehicles, even if the technology and production capabilities are not yet there to support the growth.
But, with a few well-placed government edicts, and presidential executive orders banning the production of new ICE vehicles, along with eventually banning re-sales of older ICE vehicles (something I believe will eventually be threatened, if not actually enacted), it may be possible to force sales growth in America up over the 20 million mark to 25 million, 30 million, maybe 40 million new vehicles per year. This would surely give the automakers the windfall that they need. The sales tax revenue would also be just what federal and state coffers need to try to recover from years of terrible mismanagement.
Needless to say, it would all be a short-term fix, and it will wind-up backfiring on the automakers, the politicians who have ramrodded the diktats, and the treasuries of the federal and state governments. My explanation as to why the plan will be a failure is enumerated at the end of this article.
FROM THE OIL INDUSTRY'S PERSPECTIVE (Based on my study and experience)
The petroleum oil industry wants to retain control of their profits and the world. Is that an exaggeration? No, I don't believe so. The oil industry has shown they have no allegiance to any particular economic system (free market, state controlled, or one man/family rule). They supported Hitler and Nazi fascism, they supported Lenin and communist fascism, and they support Middle East despots and their style of fascism. They have no allegiance to any individuals other than the individuals at the top of their respective companies. The only time that an oil industry entity shows commitment to an outside individual is if the individual has the power to summarily order their arrest and imprisonment, or execution (think Putin in Russia, Chavez/Maduro in Venezuela, Qaddafi in Libya, Hussein in Iraq, whatever Khomeini in Iran, Salman and Abdullah in Saudi Arabia, etc., etc.).
The oil industry lied, cheated connived, and bribed their way through decades of denials that their fuels are deadly poison, and they insisted that they are not responsible for any environmental accidents and marketplace shortages.
When Congress turned the heat up on the oil industry in the 1970s and '80s, they responded by creating the Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition (NGVC) to "explore" alternatives to gasoline and petroleum-based diesel fuel. It was a front. My understanding is that the American Petroleum Institute housed NGVC in their offices in Washington and issued press releases. That's pretty much all they did. Yes, most all automakers selling vehicles in the U.S. introduced CNG-powered passenger vehicles, but it too was just for show to score some "brownie points." Although compressed natural gas vehicles were and are still safely and successfully used outside of America, all the manufacturers soon stopped selling CNG passenger vehicles domestically (although a couple of the automakers continued building them in the U.S. for export only outside of America).
API and the gasoline companies treated CNG like an ugly duckling; they did their best to kill real interest in CNG by supporting federal and state regulations that made it almost impossible to convert existing ICE engines to CNG engines. They also spread the same kind of lies that they invented against ethanol, which deterred CNG vehicle interest. I've written fairly extensively about my personal history of buying and using a CNG-powered vehicle in order to prove or disprove the negative information about CNG. My experience with CNG was great - disproving the negative stories. CNG is cleaner and much cheaper than gasoline or diesel. It does not damage engines, and vehicles using CNG have as much power as the gasoline-powered versions. There is limited retail availability to CNG, but that's because of the oil companies had no true interest in disrupting their gasoline business, not because there is or was a lack of natural gas.
When the oil industry realized that they were missing out on a huge opportunity to use natural gas as a way to get additional subsidies and drilling permits (fracking), and that they could make billions by selling natural gas as a cleaner alternative to coal for electric power generating plants, they swung into action to transform the ugly duckling into a beautiful swan.
However, regardless of how clean and safe they make natural gas and CNG appear to be, the opportunity to make CNG the new dominant ICE fuel flew the coop. To keep the status quo, and retain their exalted position of primacy, they kept reasonably quiet about electric vehicles. They used the prospect of electric vehicles as a sleight-of-hand distraction. In effect, their position is: Don't worry about how dirty and poisonous petroleum oil fuels are; don't concern yourselves with finding clean and safe solutions; soon enough we'll all have electric vehicles to save the world.
To give you an example of one way they orchestrated this, in Robert Bryce's 2008 book "Gusher Of Lies," he rails against all alternative fuels and alternative energies (including wind and solar). This aptly named book (it gushed with lies*) became extremely popular. Robert Bryce became a regular guest speaker at conferences and a frequent guest on TV and radio shows, he was hailed as an energy expert, and his book was used as a major cited resource by other oil industry-paid mouthpieces. He argued, non-stop, against any government subsidy or program designed to help develop and expand acceptance of these alternatives. Bryce even pooh-poohed the idea of using CNG and natural gas because he stated there were dwindling domestic supplies, which would make them impossible to rely on them - he did this even though it was known that we had vast domestic resources for natural gas.
Bryce hated everything... except electric. Other than one brief non-committal mention in his original book, Bryce doesn't discuss electric vehicles. He doesn't include them in any complaint about government subsidies, allowances, proposed law changes, short-comings of EV technology, projected high retail prices of the vehicles, nothing!
The significance of this is that Robert Bryce had been supported by entities of the oil industry. He received his information (wrong information, as it turns out) from the oil industry. Bryce was not an energy expert, nor was there any way he could have written the book from direct knowledge and experience as he would have had little or none (Bryce spent about a year working on Robert Bradley Jr.'s energy website as managing editor, and before that was simply a general assignment reporter for a daily newspaper in Texas).
Two years later, about 2010, Bryce must have received an email or phone call from the oil industry telling him that "CNG-is OK" because his position on natural gas changed. This is around the time that the oil industry started looking for large scale government aid to help them develop the “suddenly” discovered domestic natural gas reserves. In his writings at the time about natural gas and CNG, there was no criticism related to any type of subsidies and government assistance for natural gas and CNG.
About the same time, Bryce added an “Epilogue To The Paperback Edition” of his book. In the middle of the epilogue he slips in two positive mentions about electric cars. His first quip is, “While the continued calls for energy independence and the increased use of corn ethanol are distressing, 2008 also brought some positive news on the energy front. Several automakers announced plans to develop and sell electric cars in the U.S. market by 2010.” A few pages later he writes, “Meanwhile, numerous battery companies, both in the U.S. and abroad, are continuing to develop better batteries. All of those developments leave me optimistic about our potential to meet the energy challenges that face the U.S. and the rest of the world.”
There were no complaints about electric vehicle subsidies, no complaints about government policy changes that would favor electric vehicle sales development and acceptance, no concerns that EV technology wasn't adequate or that it needed much more study, and no worry that the electric grid system was severely flawed. Basically all the issues that Bryce had with ethanol, wind, and solar were no longer issues when they relate to something that is favorable to the oil industry.
This provided the diversion I mentioned at the beginning of this essay to keep ethanol expansion curbed. The bad mouthing of alternative solutions, alarming consumers with technological lies, and offering exaggerated hope for an electric vehicle future all shouted one thing: "Hey consumers, don't worry about dirty, poisonous petroleum oil fuels, eventually there will be a sparkling clean electric vehicle utopia."
And the obvious unstated message to any worried oil industry investors was: "Don't worry, whatever profits we'll lose by diminished sales of our filthy petroleum oil fuels will be made up by greatly increased profits earned from other petroleum oil-based fuels (natural gas) to power the electric generators that will be needed to charge electric vehicles."
FROM A 2020 PERSPECTIVE - Literally and Figuratively
In the years along the way since Robert Bryce wrote and published his gushing lies book, the oil industry has engaged in some other distractions, such as fuel produced from "super algae." ExxonMobil, in particular, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to develop a super strain of algae that would be used to produce ethanol or another similar liquid fuel. This, of course, is a farce. Algae can grow anywhere, from any water source: swimming pools, ponds, in the ocean, lakes, a drinking glass with water left in it after a family barbecue, wherever there is water and sunlight (or light that simulates sunlight) . It needs no help, and it doesn't have to be "suped up." But the effort makes another good bull-story for the oil industry to pretend that they are socially conscious and environmentally concerned - they even spent many more millions to produce television commercials to tell us about it. (SEE: ExxonMobil Discovers Algae)
In reality, if ExxonMobil or any other oil company wanted to be in the business of producing a liquid fuel that is cleaner, safer, healthier, and less expensive than gasoline or diesel, they would simply get into the ethanol business. After all, ExxonMobil was in the ethanol business for about six decades in Great Britain when they sold "power alcohol" under their Standard Oil and Esso brands, and BP and Royal Dutch Shell are currently in the ethanol fuel business in Brazil. But ExxonMobil isn't interested in this, they're only really interested in diverting attention away from their poisonous petroleum fuels.
Now we're in the 2020s, and getting really close to the time when the ill-conceived, government-sanctioned, premature electric vehicle mandates will start to kick in. Although we predict this will be a shocking debacle in that it will have very little effect on reducing pollution and saving the world from man-made climate change, it will be a devastating 'electric shock' to the oil industry's profits. With this in mind, ExxonMobil and the oil industry have generated another diversion away from the ethanol solutions with another liquid fuel that has a rather ironic twist - almost as ironic as their "power alcohol" adventure.
This new liquid fuel is called "E-Fuel." Right off the bat, they use an old deception that they employed to market leaded gasoline. In the early 1920s, General Motors, Standard Oil, and Dupont (owners of the leaded gasoline patents) created a company called ETHYL CORPORATION. Up until the point of discovering that tetraethyl lead could be used to imitate the knock-mitigating effects of ethanol, GM's top scientists (Kettering, Midgley, Boyd) believed that ethanol was the "fuel of the future," and they made no secret that they felt this way. Their names were entwined with a clean, safe, more powerful engine fuel: ethanol (the word "ethanol" is derived from "ethyl alcohol," which is a potable alcohol).
They could have called their company "Lead Corporation" and fuel pumps could have displayed their gasoline product "Lead," but lead was already known as a killer. In fact, lead was known to be a poison going back at least to the days of the Roman Empire when wine makers added lead to wine to sweeten the taste. Some historians and anthropologists claim that the lead in wine contributed to the fall of the empire by making their statesmen dull-witted, ill, and affected their ability to reproduce. Only a person suffering from lead-poisoning would be dull-witted enough to name their company and product something synonymous to Killer. Of course, if they wanted to be truthful, but not actually use the word "killer," they could have called the company "Murder Corporation," but then that might start a trademark war with the organized crime gang known as "Murder Incorporated," and no one wanted that. Instead, they called it Ethyl.
As I wrote above, they used "Ethyl" because it related to the alcohol engine fuel and capitalized on positive characteristics touted by Kettering, Midgley, and Boyd.
The new proposed clean, safe, domestically sourced alternative liquid engine fuel is called "E-Fuel." But we already have an "e-fuel" that is a clean, safe, domestically sourced alternative to gasoline, it's Ethanol. It comes blended with gasoline or straight up. We have E5, E10, E15, E27 (as used in Brazil), E30, E85, and frankly every number you can think of from 1 to 100. We even use E0 to signify gasoline that has no ethanol whatsoever.
Is this new liquid E-Fuel ethanol? No. It's a synthetic methanol fuel made from hydrogen and CO2 using an electric (electrolysis) process powered by so called "renewable energy." What kind of "renewable energy" does it use? It uses electricity, but electricity itself is not a renewable energy. It can be generated from renewable or naturally continuous sources such as the sun, wind, hydro, thermal, and nuclear, although it's mostly generated by using coal or natural gas.
So, if this synthetic methanol is made from hydrogen and CO2, using electric produced from solar, or wind, or waterfalls, or steam arising from the center of our planet, or nuclear generators, or coal, or natural gas, why is it called E-Fuel? Why isn't this liquid fuel called M-Fuel, or H-Fuel, or CO2-Fuel, or S-Fuel, or W-Fuel, or WF-Fuel, or SSS-Fuel, or N-Fuel, or C-Fuel, or NG-Fuel?
The answer is rather simple: because all of the other possible names have bad connotations associated with them. They wouldn't use M-Fuel because the oil industry spent lots of money and time belittling methanol as an engine fuel in the 1980s and '90s. H-Fuel would remind everyone of the Hindenburg hydrogen zeppelin disaster. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is now considered a deadly green house gas, so C-Fuel is out (even though it is one of the most important life-giving natural gases). Solar and wind have intermittency problems and not considered significant enough to rely on. There's not enough waterfalls in enough locations to utilize, and natural steam vents from the Earth's core has the same problem. Nuclear is, well, nuclear, and no one wants another Chernobyl accident. Coal would just be going back around in circles. And if we're going to seriously rely on natural gas, then we might as well have kept the alternative CNG-powered vehicles alive.
Hence, this new liquid fuel is called E-Fuel because it does what Ethyl did for tetraethyl leaded gasoline: IT CONFUSES THE PUBLIC INTO THINKING THAT IT IS RELATED TO THE BENEFICIAL ASPECTS OF ETHANOL!
EDITOR'S NOTE: In addition to the blatant attempt to improperly capitalize on the positive features of ethanol, the use of the name "E-Fuel" infringes on the trademark owned by E-Fuel Corporation of Austin, Texas (a company that actually is in the ethanol fuel business).
THE IRONY OF A NEW LIQUID FUEL IN THE COMING AGE OF ELECTRIC VEHICLES
Various countries and states have proclaimed that by certain dates all new vehicles must be electric vehicles. Several auto manufacturers have announced that by certain dates all of their new automobiles will be electric vehicles.
Why then is there any interest in a new liquid fuel for internal combustion engines? Why would there be any interest by governmental bodies and leading corporations in exploring this option? The next European E-Fuel Conference is scheduled for November 2021 in Germany. Germany? But the German auto makers have made it clear that they're on the express road to electric vehicles.
Siemens Energy, an international company that is rooted in electric and electrified mass transportation calls E-Fuel the "fuel of the future." WTF?
This past May, a Wall Street Journal article about E-Fuel included this information:
"Some oil giants are making bets already. In Spain, Repsol SA is investing 60 million euros, equivalent to about $72 million, building a synthetic-fuels plant that uses CO2 captured from a nearby oil refinery in Bilbao. The plant, expected to go online in 2023, will produce 50 barrels of e-fuel a day during the pilot phase, then eventually scale up for commercial distribution of e-fuels for the transportation sector.
"U.S. oil-and-gas giant Exxon Mobil Corp. also sees an opportunity in e-fuels. This year, it pledged to invest $3 billion through 2025—roughly 3% to 4% of its planned annual capital expenditure—on lower-emission technologies such as carbon capture and storage. The oil giant also began working with Porsche this year to test e-fuels for cars."
One of the strangest parts of all this is Porsche's involvement in E-Fuel. Porsche, like all of the personal car brands that are part of the Volkswagen Group (VW, Audi, SEAT, ŠKODA, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, and Porsche) have pledged their commitment to turning their vehicles into electric vehicles. Porsche has promised that 50% of their vehicles sold by 2025 will be electric, and that at least 80% of all new Porsche vehicles will be electric by 2030. So why are they wasting any time and money on a new liquid fuel?
The only answer to all these "whys" and "WTFs" is that they all know that internal combustion engines will be around for a long time, and that the idea of a omnipresent electric vehicle future is pretty far in the future.
Meanwhile, there's already an alternative liquid fuel to petroleum-based gasoline and diesel that is available for use right now. It's the real E-Fuel, the original internal combustion engine fuel, the "fuel of the future" as prophesied by Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell, Elihu Thompson, Thomas Midgley, Charles Kettering, William Hale, and many other of the world's greatest inventors and scientists. It is ETHANOL.
Ethanol can do all the beneficial things claimed by advocates of this new synthetic methanol e-fuel. High levels of an ethanol blend can also make all internal combustion engine vehicles as clean as what is projected for electric vehicles. It is domestically produced. It requires no use of slave labor to mine materials used in lithium batteries. It also does away with the nightmare of what to do with hundreds of millions of expired lithium batteries. It is cheaper than gasoline and diesel, and cheaper than the proposed new synthetic methanol e-fuel.
The hype about electric vehicles, and the irrational support for any ersatz e-fuel is nothing more than another harmful distraction. Ethanol is the fuel of the future, but it is AVAILABLE RIGHT NOW!
* Reasons for the electric vehicle economic crash will be:
Electric vehicle technology and materiel supply are not mature enough to handle the growth - There will be real and invented shortages of rare earth battery components, computer chips, and structural parts (particularly those from unfriendly countries).
The existing electric grid system is too old and fragile in many areas to provide consistently reliable service, and safe conditions - think black outs, and electric line initiated firestorms.
Installation of public charging infrastructure is too costly. Government aid to build the systems will only add to the government indebtedness they are trying to rectify.
The retail sales bump will cool down after 3 to 5 years - and most likely fall to the lowest levels of the past 25 years - putting financially questionable automakers right back into unsustainable positions.
Electric vehicles will not be as repair and maintenance free as touted. Electric motors break down, and all moveable parts require repair and replacement. Annual repair/maintenance may be cheaper than ICE vehicles, but we will not have a sufficient supply of qualified technicians and/or parts. Wait times could nullify any cash-cost advantages. WATCH: Ronald Reagan story about service/product wait times. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLW7r4o2_Ow
The forced growth of electric vehicle ownership will kill or significantly damage existing industries. The ripple effect of this will diminish many of the perceived short-term benefits of a burgeoning EV market. SEE: Ethanol is the SAVIOR of the Oil Industry, Convenience Store Industry, Automotive Supply Chain Industry and Much More! https://www.theautochannel.com/news/2019/09/19/702173-ethanol-is-savior-oil-industry-convenience-industry-supply-chain-industry.html