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Open Letter to Bob Vila About Ethanol - Yes, That Bob Vila!

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Stick with what you know, regardless of the dough!

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

Hey Bob -

I read your article that was published on your website last week about gasoline and ethanol fuel. You know, the article titled, "Solved! How Long Does Gas Last?"

Basically, your article is an attack on ethanol fuel. Other than if you received funding from the petroleum oil industry, I can't understand why you would take this topic on.

I understand that automobiles are frequently parked in garages, and that garages are often part of residential buildings, but just because you're an expert in knowing how to change door locks and how to clean faucet aerators that doesn't mean that you're an expert in engine fuels. (Just because I'm an expert Paella Chef it doesn't mean I'm also an expert Sushi Chef, even though both foods involve rice.)

I guess you figured that collaborating with Phillip Tinner and Manasa Reddigari on the article would add some punch to its credibility and knowledge base. It didn't work, they probably know less about fuels than you.

Your article states:

    "The shelf life of gas that is ethanol-blended is usually about 3 months maximum because ethanol oxidizes pretty quickly..."

Bob, what is it that you think ethanol would oxidize more quickly than gasoline or the various ingredients that make up all gasoline (i.e., benzene, toluene, xylene, tetraethyl lead, ethylene bromide)?

• Are you thinking that a portable plastic fuel container is in danger of ethanol corrosion?
• Are you thinking that rubber engine hoses could be damaged by ethanol?
• Are you thinking that there are unprotected metal components in the fuel system or engine that are especially susceptible to ethanol?

Don't you know that ethanol is compatible with more types of rubber, plastic, and metal than gasoline and its aromatic ingredients? Don't you know that ethanol causes no damage to plastic and natural rubber, and is basically as compatible with Viton rubber as gasoline? What engine metals do you think that ethanol would rust faster than gasoline, aromatics, and water?

If you don't know the answers to these questions you may wish to read the following report as it contains several videos, compatibility charts, and online references that will educate you:

Your article goes on to say:

    "Because ethanol is hydrophilic (aka, water-loving), it will also readily absorb any water or humidity in a sealed container resulting from condensation, causing both moisture contamination of the fuel and the eventual separation of the fuel into distinct gas and ethanol layers."

Yes, Bob, condensation can take place in a sealed container; as well as in an open container, in a container that is empty, a container that has water already in it, a container that has ethanol in it, and even in a container that has gasoline in it. Condensation is a naturally occurring process, but the presence of ethanol/alcohol does not increase the likelihood of condensation forming, and your description of the process is woefully incorrect.

Actually, the correct designation of ethanol's water absorption attributes is that ethanol is "hygroscopic," not "hydrophilic." Hygroscopic relates to absorption, while hydrophilic generally relates to mixing-with.

But, more importantly, don't you know that ethanol being hygroscopic is a great benefit, not a negative characteristic?

This is why the primary active ingredient in most engine additives designed to remove water that forms in a fuel system is ethanol or another alcohol (ethanol is simply alcohol that is consumable).

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Examples of this are Dry Gas and HEET. If having alcohol in a fuel system is bad, why would anyone intentionally use products like these that are just more alcohol? They wouldn't, but because the alcohol is not the cause of the water problem, it's the solution to it, then Dry Gas, HEET, and ethanol that's already blended with gasoline are used. In fact, ethanol already blended with gasoline has made Dry Gas and HEET redundant.

Also, although ethanol is hygroscopic, it is not a desiccant. All desiccants are hygroscopic, but not all hygroscopic substances are desiccants. Therefore, ethanol does not absorb "humidity," it absorbs actual water that it comes in contact with. This doesn't mean that it can absorb all water that it comes in contact with, just a very limited - almost minute - volume. Funnily enough, it is not uncommon for ethanol-bashers to exaggerate and overdramatize ethanol's ability to absorb water, just as you did when you wrote that ethanol will "readily absorb any water" - as if it has a never-ending capability to do so. The exaggeration is intended to try and make it seem like ethanol is out of control and harmful.

What's more, Bob, phase separation can occur, but phase separation is not a new phenomenon that has only appeared since the enactment of the Renewable Fuel Standard. Phase separation has always been likely whenever gasoline and water are put together - it doesn't require the presence of ethanol. Phase separation occurs simply because of gasoline's inability to absorb more than a microscopic amount of water. This means that the problem of phase separation (if it is indeed a problem) is caused by gasoline, not ethanol.

However, the beneficial story about ethanol's ability to absorb water doesn't end here. You see, Bob, ethanol that has absorbed water, and mixed with water, is often still combustible. For example, alcohol spirits such as brandy (which is typically about 40% ethanol mixed with 60% water) will still combust. You can do an experiment to prove this on your kitchen counter. Pour some brandy on a dinner plate or bowl and put a match to it. It will burn until all the liquid is gone. This means that if there is an amount of water in the fuel tank that is in excess of the very small amount that has been absorbed by the ethanol, then the ethanol/water mixture will still combust and disintegrate the water molecules, thereby having little or no effect on engine performance. On the other hand, water in a fuel tank with ethanol-free gasoline could result in misfiring, which might impede engine performance.

Clearly, you have screwed up the water absorption issue big time.

Your article then addresses the issue of "shelf life." In this area, you make several boneheaded statements. You and your team wrote,

    "Generally, the higher the ethanol content in the gas, the shorter its shelf life, so E15 (15 percent ethanol content), E20 (20 percent ethanol), or E85 (85 percent ethanol) gas will expire sooner than E10 gas will...

    "Pure gasoline keeps for at least 6 months..."

    "Petroleum-based gasoline that does not contain ethanol will still succumb to oxidation and volatile compound evaporation in a sealed container or tank, but these processes usually occur more slowly in pure gasoline. Expect non-ethanol gas to last at least 6 months if it’s properly stored. Because pure gasoline is hydrophobic (aka, water-hating), it doesn’t absorb water or humidity as ethanol-blended gas does, which means that you won’t have the moisture contamination and fuel-separation issues you have when storing ethanol-blended gas."

These statements are unadulterated horse manure, but I love that you have published them. For a guy like me, it's like I'm a kid in a candy store, or a teenager in a Brooklyn pizza parlor: It's positively mouth-watering!

Bob, ethanol never goes bad. Most alcohols never go bad. The proof of this can be found in almost every home in America (and maybe the world). If you go into your bathroom you will most likely have a bottle of rubbing alcohol. It will be either ethyl alcohol (ethanol) or it will be isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol). The alcohol content will be anywhere from about 70% to 91%. Chances are that you've had this bottle for 1, 2, 3 years or more. The quality and effectiveness of the alcohol in this bottle will be exactly the same as it was on the day it was purchased. It has not been contaminated, it has not soured, it has not lost any effectiveness.

Then, if you examine your liquor shelf/cabinet (or visit your grandparent's house and examine their liquor shelf/cabinet), you will most likely find at least one old bottle of high-alcohol spirits, such as whisky, schnapps, vodka, gin, rum, tequila, or brandy. This bottle may have been sitting on the shelf for one or more years, and this time is in addition to any years spent aging the ethanol. You or your grandfather may have opened the bottle a dozen or more times over the years. If you go to that bottle now, and taste the contents, it will taste exactly the same, and it will have the same alcoholic strength it had on the day it was purchased. Ethanol never goes bad, it is a preservative.

If there is anything wrong with your rubbing alcohol or drinking alcohol it is because something got into the bottle. That something could have gone bad, and that something could be gasoline.

Gasoline does go bad. Gasoline does sour. The only real problem with ethanol-gasoline blends is that it has gasoline in it. Take out the gasoline and it's near perfect!

You ignorantly use the term "pure gasoline." There is no such thing as pure gasoline, unless you mean to say "pure poison." Gasoline is made from hundreds of ingredients that can change depending on the location of manufacture, seasonality, and altitude. Many of the ingredients will kill a person if they are consumed, some will damage a person's skin if touched, and some can kill a person just from touching it. It's pure poison, even without having any tetraethyl lead in it. One of the worst elements of gasoline is benzene. Gasoline can not be made without having benzene in it.

A study conducted in the late 1940s by the American Petroleum Institute (the filthy mouthpiece of the filthy oil industry) admitted that there is no amount of benzene that is safe to be in the air we breathe...ZERO AMOUNT. Yet, if ethanol was not used as an oxygenate in gasoline to increase the octane level, then more benzene would have to be used to make gasoline. If there is no amount of benzene that is safe for us to breathe, then why would it be wise to increase the current amount of benzene? It wouldn't be.

Can you guess how much benzene is in ethanol?

If you guessed ZERO, you're correct!

It doesn't matter if gasoline is "hydrophobic." Being hydrophobic doesn't stop condensation from taking place. If condensation occurs, and water forms, then that water is part of the liquid that is either already in the engine's fuel tank or in the fuel container along with the gasoline. And when the contents are poured into the engine's fuel tank, the water will go with it. Therefore, you will have whatever moisture contamination and phase separation issues you are afraid of - all without the presence or aid of ethanol.

Why have you not already understood all this? Much of this is simply common sense. I thought that a lot of what you teach people is based on common sense. What the heck happened?

Of course, you may disagree with all that I wrote. You may want more proof. Okay, just go re-read your article. You advocate the use of Sta-Bil, a fuel additive that stabilizes gasoline. You feature a large promotional photo of a Sta-Bil bottle (perhaps Gold Eagle, the manufacturer of Sta-Bil, is the entity that funded your idiotic attack on ethanol). Well, Sta-Bil was originally formulated and distributed in the 1950s, a half-century before the enactment of the Renewable Fuel Standard and the regular use of ethanol-gasoline blends in America. If ethanol was the cause of water in a fuel tank, and/or phase separation, and/or gasoline fuel degradation, why was Sta-Bil introduced 50 years before anyone needed it?

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By the way, Gold Eagle is also the manufacturer of the HEET additives I mentioned know, the HEET products that supposedly solve the problems caused by alcohol fuel by adding more alcohol into the fuel, hahahahahahaha.

I wrote an in-depth report of the Gold Eagle's products back in August 2019. You really, really should read it - in fact, you should have read it before you published your story, but that's water under the bridge. Here's the report:

And finally, there's the icing-on-the-cake of this delicious dessert you have presented me with, your admonition against using "contaminated gasoline" because it can:

    "Promote corrosion or leave sludge or varnish deposits on fuel system components that can irreparably damage them."

Contaminated gasoline does not do these things, Bob, GASOLINE does it. Fresh gasoline, old gasoline, any gasoline does it. They all burn dirty and leave debris and gummy deposits that can dry and harden into the varnish that can irreparably damage engines. Ethanol does not cause this. Ethanol burns clean, and dries clean. Ethanol helps to remove the gunk/goo/crap caused by gasoline.

Bob, your article ends with advice on how to get rid of gasoline smell and old gasoline. I have much better advice for dealing with these problems: STOP USING GASOLINE!

And my advice to you and your co-authors Phil and Manasa: DO RESEARCH BEFORE YOU WRITE ABOUT A SUBJECT YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT! Don't trust the notes sent to you by API or Gold Eagle, or whoever sent them - regardless of the amount of money they are paying you. Confirm the information for yourself.

Thanks for your time.

Marc J. Rauch