Battling Anti-Ethanol Snake Oil Myths
Slogging Through The Muck & Mire of Ethanol Ignorance
Author of THE ETHANOL PAPERS
Exec. Vice President/Co-Publisher
THE AUTO CHANNEL
Years ago, Ivory Soap used the tagline "It's so pure, it floats." In TV commercials and print ads they would show an Ivory Soap bar floating. As the world later learned, the soap didn't float because it was "pure," but because it had air bubbles in it. The company also would claim that 4 bars of Ivory Soap cost no more than 3 bars of other soaps. Taking into account that the formulation of an Ivory Soap bar was mixed with so much air, the probable reason that 4 bars of Ivory Soap could be sold for the same price as 3 bars of another brand was that it contained only the same amount of 'soap' ingredients as 3 bars.
Therefore, in effect, the correct promotional tagline should have been something like: "Ivory Soap floats on BS."
There's a one-word expression used to describe innocent promotional BS. That word is "puffery." Puffery perfectly befits the Ivory Soap tagline because "puffery" evokes mental images of tiny puffs of air.
There are also expressions used to connote not-so-innocent promotional BS. One such expression is "snake oil." In much the same way that "puffery" can evoke images of little floating bubbles, "snake oil" conjures up images of uniquely shaped bottles or vials to aid in the impression that a magical potion is contained therein.
These were the thoughts that first came to mind when my attention was directed to an editorial for a product called "Lucas Oil Safeguard Ethanol Fuel Conditioner with Stabilizers." The editorial appeared on the website EngineLabs.com.
Randy's bio seems to focus on the technical aspects of website production more than automobile production and performance, so that's why I refer to him as an "automotive product reviewer" instead of "automotive journalist." I don't think that one is better or more significant than the other, but I think it explains why the Lucas Oil Safeguard review reads more like a press release or advertorial than as a true editorial. I believe that a webpage on the Lucas Oil website bears this out because it reads almost exactly the same.
The one "editorial" component of what passes as Mr. Bolig's story are the first two paragraphs that condemn ethanol (he uses the term "ethanol infused gasoline"). I don't recall ever hearing that term used before. I guess it's technically correct, but I don't ever remember hearing or seeing "gasoline infused with tetraethyl lead," or "gasoline infused with benzene and other poisons." So, it seems a little contrived to say "ethanol infused gasoline." Actually, I've always been partial to using the term "poison gasoline," which is also technically correct. But, considering my earlier comments about the Lucas bottles having the design of a snake oil-like bottle, a contrived description such as "...infused with..." may be metaphorically appropriate.
In any event, in the first two paragraphs of Mr. Bolig's editorial, he writes that...
1.Ethanol can wreak havoc on many collector cars.
2. Ethanol is hygroscopic, "In other words, it absorbs water."
3. This water leads to condensation in fuel tanks, fuel lines, and carburetor float bowls.
4. The water in ethanol fuel can also cause paper fuel filters to swell and clog the system.
5. Gasoline mixed with ethanol also has a shorter shelf life and goes stale quickly.
6. Ethanol is highly corrosive, and this corrosive nature and the fact it “gathers” water means it helps rust to form wherever air meets metal once submerged.
These statements are terribly, terribly wrong and over-exaggerated. In my opinion, they show no hands-on experience with fuels, no historical knowledge of the history of engine fuels, and a complete lack of knowledge regarding the "chemical and mechanical characteristics" of the processes involved.
To be upfront about this, this is not my first critique of this Lucas Oil product. Back in October 2019, I wrote and published a report about a video test conducted by Todd Osgood and PROJECT FARM.
Todd's video "Does Fuel Stabilizer Prevent Ethanol Damage? Let's find out!" featured Lucas' Safeguard Ethanol Fuel Conditioner. As it tuned out, Todd Osgood's test showed the product
didn't work. You can read more about my report on the test and watch Todd's video by clicking:
When I was alerted to Randy Bolig's advertorial about the Lucas Oil ethanol "stabilizer," I had an idea that the information might be terribly wrong and over-exaggerated. As I wrote above, the info was wrong, terribly wrong.
So, without any further ado, I'll address the deceptive claims made by Lucas Oil and Randy Bolig.
1. There's no proof that ethanol wreaks havoc on "many collector cars." There's rumors, heresay, and lies, but no proof.
In fact, many decades of real experience shows that ethanol-gasoline blends do not cause damage to any cars greater than the damage caused by ethanol-free gasoline, regardless of age and manufacturer.
What "real experience" am I referring to? Well, there the several decades in which ethanol-gasoline blends from E10 to E50 were used in Great Britain and other European countries (1900 through 1970s). These blends were marketed by top petroleum oil fuel producers like Standard Oil and Cities Service. The blends were promoted as being cleaner, safer, healthier, less expensive, and more powerful than gasolines without ethanol or alcohol. There are no reports from then-contemporary consumers or automotive writers about any problems caused by the ethanol additives.
In addition, there's about 45 years of extensive experience from the mandated use of higher ethanol-gasoline blends in Brazil - a country with a population that's equal to the population of Britain, France and Germany combined. Brazil began mandating E15 in 1978. Over the years the mandated levels of ethanol kept rising. For the past few years, the mandated fuel is E27, nearly three times more ethanol than found in E10. The cars on the road in Europe and Brazil are the same as the cars on the road in America. Their engines and fuel systems are no different than the vehicles in America.
Moreover, when people talk about "collector cars," they are often referring to the great European classics from Rolls Royce, Bentley, MG, Triumph, Austin Healey, Rover, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Fiat, BMW, Volvo, Saab, Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Renault, Audi, Citroen, and VW. All of these cars could run safely, efficiently, and economically on ethanol-gasoline blends. So-called American cars (Chevy, Ford, Cadillac, Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep, Buick, Oldmobile, etc.) have been a significant part of the Brazilian fleet. In addition, they have Asian cars (Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Kia, Hyundai, etc.). All of these brands in Brazil, regardless of age must run on the mandated ethanol-gasoline blends. If ethanol could wreak havoc with collector cars, there should be a plethora of reports detailing the damage. I have never read any such reports. If you can run a 1993 Camaro today on the streets of Rio de Janeiro with E27 fuel, then you can run that same car on the streets of any American city on E27 fuel.
One more point on this issue, Henry Ford designed and built the Model T to run on alcohol as well as gasoline and kerosene. For 20 years, the Model T was the number one selling car in the world. There is no record of alcohol (ethanol) damaging the Model T. Ford wasn't the only American manufacturer to build cars that ran on alcohol, several early vehicles were intended to run on "farm fuel" (distilled alcohol).
You might ask how much I researched this information? The answer is, enough to write these reports about the subject:
2. Ethanol (alcohol) is hygroscopic and it can absorb water, a small amount of water.
However, alcohol's water-absorbing characteristic is a benefit, not a detriment as exaggerated by snake oil salesmen. Part of the exaggeration is that ethanol sucks water right out of the air. This does not happen. Water can form in a fuel tank and system only two ways: First, by natural condensation. Second, by accident from rain dropping through an open fuel door or cap, or if someone is so drunk that they mistake the water hose for a fuel hose. Ethanol does not generate a greater amount of natural condensation. Condensation occurs with or without the presence of ethanol, and it occurs in empty containers and on dry surfaces.
The presence of water in a fuel system causes the most problems in cold weather because the fuel lines can freeze and burst. Ethanol or any other type of alcohol helps to prevent this in almost all circumstances. This is why the best-known after-market engine additives to prevent fuel line freeze (Dry Gas is an example) contain ethanol, or methanol, or isopropanol.
In warmer weather, ethanol absorbs water that forms, removing it from the fuel tank and system. Although gasoline also has hygroscopic characteristics, it cannot absorb anywhere near as much water as ethanol. Consequently, if water formed in your fuel system, and if you are worried that the water will begin causing some corrosion problems, then you want ethanol in your fuel tank. Some after-market engine additives that claim to remove water simply function in the same manner as ethanol. There is no proof that a product that contains petroleum distillates instead alcohol to absorb the water functions any better or faster. Another benefit to using ethanol than petroleum distillates is that ethanol is less corrosive than petroleum distillates.
Contorting ethanol's hygroscopic characteristics into something bad is like running around shouting "Don't eat ice cream, it tastes too good!"
Want more information about ethanol being hygroscopic? Read this report I wrote and published:
3. Randy Bolig says that "water leads to condensation in fuel tanks, fuel lines, and carburetor float bowls "
It's the other way around... Water doesn't lead to condensation, water forms from the condensation process. Therefore, condensation leads to water that could then be present in fuel tanks, fuel lines, and carburetor float bowls. Perhaps Randy simply made an error in his sentence structure and all the people at EngineLabs.com and Lucas Oil overlooked the error. It happens, I've made a few typo error doozies myself over the years.
So I'll forget the syntax error for now and concentrate on what I think is the essence of this particular complaint: water pooling in the fuel tank and system. This takes me back to the previous section. Condensation occurs naturally, and the result is water. Alcohol does not intensify the process of condensation. Condensation occurs when a cold surface comes in contact with warmer humid air. Consequently, it can happen on a surface or in a tank or container that is empty or full. Water forms on your car or outdoor furniture as the air temperature increases during sunrise after a cool night. Condensation forms on a outside of a glass of an iced beverage, and it can form on the inside and outside of an empty cold drinking glass. If the water forms in a fuel tank it can inhibit engine ignition. Since you can't effectively reach into the fuel tank to sop up the water, you use something that can absorb the water and still ignite. Since gasoline is inefficient at doing this, you use another substance that is effective at absorbing water and is combustible for ignition. The best substances for doing this is an alcohol, and ethanol is alcohol. The volume of ethanol in E10, E15, E20, etc., etc., is perfect for removing the water that forms from condensation.
I've had some people say to me that because ethanol is so evaporative that it intensifies the condensation process. As I've already stated, condensation doesn't need the presence of ethanol or any liquid to occur. However, what these people obviously don't know is that gasoline is more evaporative than ethanol. Therefore, if condensation did intensify because of the presence of an evaporative ingredient, then gasoline would be the villain, not ethanol.
I don't know why Randy Bolig and all the people at EngineLabs and Lucas Oil don't know this, or why they hide this information, but I think it should be very disconcerting for consumers that they do.
4. The claim that ethanol can "cause paper fuel filters to swell and clog the system."
I did some tests around my house with paper and liquids. I used paper towels, toilet paper, cardboard, and writing paper. I poured three types of liquids on the paper samples: water, 100% ethanol, and E0 gasoline (ethanol free gasoline). Each paper sample reacted the same regardless of the liquid I poured on them. Ethanol didn't do anything to the paper samples that the water and gasoline didn't also do (try it yourself).
Then I researched the type of paper used in a paper fuel filter. One company, INDUSTRIAL SPECIALTIES MFG of Englewood, Colorado, makes paper engine fuel filters that use filter elements made of polymer resin (phenolic resin) treated cellulose - cellulose pulp is used to make paper. On the company's website, they say their paper fuel filters are compatible with E10, plus it has a broad resistance to alcohol exposure. It doesn't address their paper filter's compatibility with higher levels of ethanol either to the positive or negative.
Polymer resins are used to create polyethylene coatings. Therefore, I checked with some chemical resistance/compatibility charts to see if polyethylene coatings are susceptible to ethanol, or less compatible to ethanol than they are to gasoline and gasoline's typical aromatic components. I visited:
The results are that ethanol is at least as compatible, or more compatible to polyethylene as gasoline and the individual aromatic components found in gasoline (benzene, toluene, xylene). Consequently, I would say that for Mr. Bolig, EngineLabs, and Lucas Oil to suggest that ethanol could cause comparative undue swelling of paper fuel filters and create a problem, it's WISHFUL THINKING on the part of someone trying to sell some snake oil.
I sure hope no one ever asks Bolig, Engine Labs, and Lucas to define what a "woman" is.
5. Shelf life of ethanol.
Ethanol never goes bad. The simplest and easiest way to prove this is to go into your bathroom and get the bottle of rubbing alcohol. How do I know you have rubbing alcohol in your bathroom? Because everyone has rubbing alcohol in their bathroom (this will be especially true if there's a woman in your home). The rubbing alcohol will be either ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol. It will be 70% or 91%. Chances are that you had that bottle or another bottle in the house for many months, if not years. It is exactly the same today as when you bought it, even if the bottle has been opened and you've used some of the contents. It has not spoiled.
The 2nd test you can do is to go over to your parents' or grandparents' house. Most likely they will have one or more old bottles of drinking ethanol (distilled alcohol spirits). They'll have some old vodka, gin, whiskey, rum, aquavit, whatever. The bottle could be 5 years old, 10 years old, maybe 20 years old or more. Open it, taste it. It will be exactly like it was when it was new, even if the bottle has been occasionally used over the years. Drink it, drink a lot of it, you'll get as drunk as you would have when it was new.
What can go bad in a bottle of alcohol is something that is added to the alcohol. Gasoline components can go bad, and so when you mix gasoline or a denaturizing agent with ethanol, that can go bad.
Ethanol or other alcohols are often the active ingredients used in aftermarket engine additives for vehicles that are intended to sit idle for a protracted period time. In fact, a century ago a leading automotive expert named Victor Pagé wrote several automobile manuals and books. In his 1919 book about the Ford Model T (the most successful automobile of its time, and the world's top-selling vehicle for 20 years), he addressed the issue of storing a car over the winter. He offered a few different suggestions, but then he zeroed in and wrote:
"Denatured alcohol is without doubt the best substance to use as it does not have any destructive action on the metals or rubber hose, will not form deposits of foreign matter, and has no electrolytic effect."
Amos Cline, a current Research Laboratory Specialist at University of Maine at Orono says this about gasoline shelf life:
" Gasoline stored where it is warm will last only a few months. Stored cold during the winter it can last six months or more. The fuel eventually turns to varnish after enough of the naphtha (which acts as a solvent, like in oil based paint) boils off. What is left polymerizes and turns into plastic (varnish). When gasoline polymerizes and turns to varnish it changes it’s chemical structure and is no longer gasoline."
I emailed Amos Cline and asked what his position is on ethanol's shelf life versus gasoline. His remarks were very similar to mine. He replied:
"As for the stability of alcohol, have you ever heard of a bottle of alcohol that was too old to drink? As for pure alcohol, I have HPLC grade bottles of 99.5 alcohol (about as pure as it gets). I know they have been around for about 35 or more years, they show no signs of degradation."
6. Randy Bolig and Lucas Oil say that ethanol is highly corrosive.
Ethanol is corrosive...all liquids are corrosive. Plain old water is highly corrosive. But however corrosive ethanol and water are, they're not as corrosive as gasoline and its related aromatics.
For the past several years, whenever I write about the question of ethanol's corrosiveness, I cite the comparison charts and graphs provided by various industrial resources. These resources all show that ethanol (ethyl alcohol) is compatible with more types of rubber, plastic, and metal than gasoline and aromatics. Being compatible with MORE types of materials means that ethanol is LESS corrosive. And, one of the most interesting points about this is that the materials that ethanol is less corrosive with, compared to gasoline and aromatics, are some of the most basic materials used in internal combustion engines and fuel systems.
When tetraethyl lead was added to poison gasoline (in place of ethanol) in the early 1920s to reduce engine knocking, the concoction became even more corrosive and poisonous. To reduce the very high corrosiveness of leaded gasoline, Standard Oil and its offshoot companies added ethylene bromide, which is another poisonous substance. The addition of the new poison to the old poisons reduced the corrosive reaction on some materials, but not all. One very important material used in fuel systems is rubber. The triple-poison leaded gasoline was a scourge to rubber, and there was no solution. Finally, in the 1950s, Dupont invented Viton rubber. Viton could handle the vile leaded gasoline.
Viton was almost immediately adopted by the aviation industry for obvious reasons (when you're 15,000 feet in the air, it's impossible to pull over to change a leaky rubber hose or await help).
Within a few years, Viton was adopted by most or all automobile manufacturers. This was a great boon to internal combustion engine reliability. But here's the thing, the late 1950s was nearly 50 years before the Renewable Fuel Standard and the practice of adding ethanol to gasoline in place of poisonous tetraethyl lead, ethylene bromide, and MTBE. As it turns out, as evidenced in the chemical comparison charts, rubber is NOT susceptible to ethanol. This fact is shockingly little known, especially shocking within the automotive repair/maintenance industry. And there's good reason for it to be so little known...it requires someone to do about 60 seconds of research. Yes, that's a sarcastic comment.
Just think of all those years of the petroleum oil industry literally pouring all those poisons down our throats into our lungs, blood, and brains. All the oil industry had to do was to follow what Henry Ford wanted, and even what General Motors' top scientists originally wanted: To make ethanol the primary engine fuel.
If you would like to read more about this, and see for yourself what the chemical comparison charts and graphs show about the compatibility of ethanol, read this report I wrote and published:
If you're lazy, or a human ostrich, and you don't want to have to go to the bother of reading another of my long reports, I have wonderful news for you. Our good friends at Midwest Ethanol Outpost put together the following brief and easy-to-read list of materials that ethanol is compatible with, and how it compares to gasoline and aromatics:
Ethanol Compatibility List from Midwest Ethanol Outpost - March 2022
Here's a list of some of the most common materials found in fuel systems and their respective compatibility with ethanol:
• High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE): Excellent
• Polyamide 12 (nylon 12): Resistant
• Nylon: Excellent
• Buna N: Fair
• Stainless Steel 304 and 316: Excellent
• Aluminum: Good/Resistant
• Brass: Excellent
• Bronze: Excellent
• Cast Iron: Good/Resistant
• Natural Rubber: Excellent
• Neoprene: Excellent
• Viton: Excellent
Now the same list with high aromatic gasoline:
• High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE): Not recommended
• Polyamide 12 (nylon 12): Resistant
• Nylon: Excellent
• Buna N: Poor
• Stainless Steel 304 and 316: Good to Excellent
• Aluminum: Poor
• Brass: N/A
• Bronze: Excellent
• Cast Iron: Excellent
• Natural Rubber: Poor
• Neoprene: Poor (with high toluene content)
• Viton: Fair to Excellent (aromatic content dependent, rated C-Fair for high toluene)
Sourced through: Cole Parmer Viton Minor Rubber Products Nylacast Chemical CalPac Lab NES IPS
This concise list is perfect for printing out and taping to your computer, refrigerator, bathroom mirror, or to take with you when you go to get your vehicle serviced.
The upshot of this issue is that because water will be absorbed by alcohol, it will more easily be removed from a fuel tank via the routine detonation of ethanol fuel. Phase separation can take place after a significant idle period of time (not one hour or overnight). Phase separation occurs because gasoline cannot absorb the water that forms from condensation. If your fuel tank and fuel system are made of materials that are susceptible to water corrosion, then this water may cause a problem. When you attempt to start your vehicle the water might inhibit ignition because water does not ignite. The presence of any alcohol helps with ignition because alcohol is combustible. Even alcohol saturated with water will readily ignite. Want to see this for yourself? Pour some 70% ethyl rubbing alcohol into a glass and put a lit match to it. This 70% ethanol has about 30% water in it...that's a lot of water, and yet it will ignite.
What this means, is that if your engine has been idle for enough time that phase separation occurs, the rather small amount of water that forms from condensation will be absorbed by the ethanol and it will combust! When the ethanol in your fuel system combusts it disintegrates the water molecules, thereby removing the water from your fuel system.
Any ingredient used in an aftermarket product to remove water from the fuel tank will contain some type of alcohol or a petroleum distillate ingredient that mimics alcohol, that's all it is. Therefore, labeling any aftermarket product as something special is nothing more than the snake oil rhetoric.
The bottom line to all of this is YOUR BOTTOM LINE. In the case of "Lucas Oil Safeguard Ethanol Fuel Conditioner with Stabilizers," a two-ounce bottle currently retails for almost $11. The instructions on the bottle say that it will handle up to 10 gallons of gasoline. In a fill-up of a tank that holds 14 gallons of fuel, you will need almost 3 ounces of the Lucas Oil product, which will cost you close to $15. Even with the highly inflated gasoline prices today, that's equivalent to around 3 gallons of fuel. So if it costs $5 per gallon of fuel, a 14-gallon fill-up will cost $70, plus $15 for 3 ounces of the Lucas Oil product: GRAND TOTAL $85.
You don't need it, it's a waste of money, and if you wanted to have the "added protection of more ethanol in your fuel tank," then simply 'splash-blend' in a few gallons of E85 into your tank to raise the effective level of ethanol. The E85 gallons will save you anywhere from $1 to almost $2 per gallon, and you will most likely get comparable or better MPG than just using E10 or E15. If you don't use the Lucas Oil product, and you substitute 5 of the 14 gallons of E10 or E0 with E85, you could save up to $25 on every tank full of fuel. Want to know more about how this works? Read these reports I wrote:
MY BOTTOM LINE
If you have a product that you believe performs some real benefit, then stick to that. Frankly, I don't know of any benefit provided by this Lucas Oil product, but if there is one or two let me know without having to blame common everyday mechanical issues (caused by gasoline) on ethanol.
In the preparation of this report, I sent Randy Bolig two emails asking about the incorrect information contained in his advertorial. He never replied. Perhaps he'll read this and reply, if so, I'll add his reply and my response here.
If anyone would like to challenge my findings and comments, I'm happy and willing to debate it in any public forum: Conference center, school auditorium, industry trade symposium, live TV/internet broadcast, radio show, or courtroom. My calendar is wide open.
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