Arguments against biofuels – particularly the production of ethanol infused petrol – gained traction recently amid the publication of a new study in America.

Our sister title Classic Car Mart reiterated the corrosive risks ten per cent ethanol fuel (known as E10) posed to classic fuel systems back in August 2016; in July they reported on proposals to roll out E10 across forecourts by 2020 and the problems it might create for smaller retailers.

It seems that there’s more at stake than carburettors, fuel injection systems and enthusiasts’ wallets. Away from price crusades like those waged by the RAC and FairFuelUK, online car magazine Autoblog claims that the production of ethanol as a fuel is more harmful to the environment than first claimed. With the backlash against Volkswagen’s diesel cars (and heavy oil as a fuel) growing stronger by the day, Autoblog cites publications by trade magazine Ethanol Producer and the University of Michigan as basis for its claim.

Remember Nitrogen oxide (NOx) levels? They were at the heart of the Volkswagen diesel scandal: Wolfsburg’s engineers wrote software to deliberately lower NOx emissions in government tests. Heavy oil Volkswagens were touted as the cleanest diesels on sale in the USA; although sustainable, NOx emissions from ethanol production are, Ethanol Producer claims, measured with outdated methods and could be responsible for up to 80 per cent of NOx emissions in America.

The University of Michigan’s (UoM’s) survey goes further, stating that so -called ‘harvest carbon’ – in effect, the process of extracting, refining and transporting the ethanol – was left out of the appraisal process and in fact contributes to (rather than lessens) the much-debated state of global warming from the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) used to get ethanol fuels to the forecourt.

According to UoM’s Energy Institute Professor John DeCicco, US governmental statistics assumed for 11 years that photosynthesis during the time the corn and plant matter was growing offset the CO2 produced in its conversion to ethanol fuel.

“To verify the extent to which that assumption is true, you really need to analyse what’s going at the farm where the biofuels are grown,” Professor DeCicco told Autoblog. “When it comes to the emissions that cause global warming, it turns out that biofuels are worse than gasoline,” he concluded.
Using figures from the US Department of Agriculture, Professor DiCicco, whose research was controversially funded by the American Petroleum Institute, found that corn and soybean production tripled since 2005 over the pond; as Federal (countrywide) mandates for biofuels went into effect at the same time, CO2 had only been offset by 37 per cent.

Will this weaken the biofuel debate? Clearly, more research needs to be done closer to home: if the allegations turn out to be true, historic vehicle owners may not need to rely as heavily on ethanol-free fuel or additives as they once thought.