Understand the importance of measuring ethanol in gasoline
By Thomas Ervin
There has been ethanol in gasoline for much longer than most people suspect. Henry Ford's first car was powered solely by this biofuel in 1896. Standard Oil began using it in its fuel formulas in the 1920s to aid engine performance. It was not until the latter part of the 20th century that this sustainable fuel product began to be sold commercially. The combination of rising oil prices and environmental concerns has resulted in the use of this additive as a replacement for other petroleum-based ingredients that fuel the nation's vehicles.
In recent years, there has been a growing controversy over the accepted amount of ethanol in gasoline; Trying to balance cost, environmental concerns and performance has made this a somewhat daunting task. The legal limit for gasoline engines is 10 percent; Some producers of this product are in the process of obtaining an exemption to increase the allowed amount to 15 percent. This is where the conflict between engine manufacturers and producers of this renewable energy source is most acute.
Proponents of increasing the amount of ethanol in gasoline cite the compelling argument that since this product is produced domestically, increasing its use would help reduce dependence on foreign fuel supplies. As the industry grows, the number of American jobs that would be generated would also increase. Finally, since this renewable energy source is less damaging to the environment than its oil counterparts, the overall quality of life both in the country and elsewhere could be improved.
The opponents' arguments are also compelling. Manufacturers note that the lower energy content of these fuel blends ultimately translates to increased fuel usage and higher consumer prices. Newer flex-fuel vehicles, which use a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, actually have lower fuel consumption than their traditional counterparts. A second argument is that older engines (those made before 2001) are not approved for newer blends and could be damaged. Finally, there is an ongoing discussion on whether land that can be used to grow food should instead be used to grow crops for fuel.
With all these competitive positions, measuring the level of ethanol distributors in gasoline is more important than ever. As the number of suppliers increases, end-user merchants must be able to verify that the products they receive are properly mixed and the fuel loads specified in their orders. State-of-the-art instruments such as portable computerized analyzers and infrared spectrometers can be used on-site to provide information in as little as a minute. With this information, traders and end users can be assured that the fuel they use is in line with the specifications for their particular application.