Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A Little Conspiracy

Contributed by our Great Lakes Bureau Chief, Ralph Schwan

Here's a strange little conspiracy for your consideration, Tupper.
E-85. That's coming to a gas pump near you, and soon. It's just corn likker (ethanol) at 85% denatured with 15% gasoline.
It's pretty obvious that the automotive companies have been designing engines toward burning this stuff for near a decade. That's where the conspiracy falls, as it's something not discussed. In order to fire off the stuff an engine needs a rather high compression ratio, something in the 10:1 range. That's gear-head stuff to you, T, but such compression hasn't been seen since the muscle cars of the late '60s. (and we gear-heads all ran Shell premium, back then, because it was 98 octane).
E-85 is inherently "high octane." 105! The nearest equivalent is "Racing Fuel," a very specialized gasoline sold only to gear-heads (and allegedly Tim McVeigh) who have built a custom, high output engine to burn it.
In order to burn either gasoline or E-85 (known as "flex-fuel") the engine control computer shifts around the timing. That's done by analysis of the oxygen coming out the exhaust. It's pretty simple stuff (to a gear-head). But to burn the E-85 the high compression ratio has to be present. So they've been building engines with compression ratios in that 10:1 range, and actually degrading the timing to burn gasoline.
There are about 4,000,000 vehicles currently on the road able to burn E-85. But only 10% of the owners realize that! The salesman never pointed out that this "option" was included. It's a "free" option. Honest. When do you last recall an automobile company offering an option at Zero additional cost? I'm gonna guess, a very low guess, that another 50,000,000+ cars can probably burn a 50-50 mix of it, by the owner pumping half a tank of the lowest grade of "regular" and topping it off with E-85.
Like I said, there's some sort of strange little conspiracy here because it's just not being discussed.
The aspect of it that you'll find intriguing is the years involved. The automotive firms had to have been put on notice to go this route a very long time back because engineering and development don't happen in a year or even three.
And the bottom line is that they were ordered to do that bit of engineering and development that long ago because somebody either knew that oil prices were destined to go stratospheric or that imported oil was going to dry up. Pick one. Pick both!
Just a crazy little conspiracy. Nobody is talking about it. Gotta be a gear-head to even realize that it exists - and we are few and far between.