Chevelles and Ethanol

 

Chevelles and Ethanol

 

 

Or just about any carbureted engine for that matter. As the political and economical bandwagon gathers speed in favor of ethanol-gasoline mixtures, we're left wondering how our Chevelle engines will run and live with them. It appears ethanol is going to be a fact of life for a while and that gasoline-ethanol mixes may be the only thing available at the pump before long. Some areas already mandate ethanol in all gasoline sold. Whether "gasohol" is the answer to our energy source problems and is really the economic boon some tout is another story, but due to the political push and all the ethanol plants already on line with more under construction and planned, we may have to live with it like it or not.


Ethanol, most commonly derived from corn here in the U.S., is a form of alcohol that can be mixed with gasoline most commonly in mixtures of 10 to 85 % ethanol. Any more than 85 % causes starting problems. Ethanol burns clean (although some recent studies dispute this) and has a higher octane rating than pump gas but produces less energy by volume. That means fuel-air mixtures ideally should be richened accordingly from straight gasoline and lower fuel economy. Ethanol is also highly corrosive and attacks aluminum, some other metals, and rubber. Plusses are (debatable) lower emissions and higher octane (the ability to run a higher compression ratio), plus the obvious reduced dependence on foreign oil. Minuses are reduced fuel economy, the requirement for mixture changes, and the corrosive effects. From what I can find, power output is about the same with mixes, if properly jetted, as straight gasoline. With a higher compression ratio, power would be higher.


E10, or a mix of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline, has been around many years and many gas stations have sold it without much fanfare. Most of us have probably bought it at one time or another without even realizing it. Supposedly the pumps were required to have decals announcing that fact but the decals weren't always there. E10 in our Chevelles would probably be barely noticeable other than a slight decrease in fuel mileage (and power unless re-jetted). The corrosive effects would probably be so slight as to be no problem. It wouldn't be surprising to see E10 as the closest thing to straight gasoline available at the pump in a short time. At the other end, E85 is available at very few stations at this time and can only be commonly used in newer "flex fuel" vehicles specifically built to use that or any other mixture up to E85, or straight gasoline. E85 availability and flex fuel vehicles are quickly gaining popularity though. My WA guess is that sooner or later pumps will only have available E10, another mix, and E85.
Since straight methanol (another form of alcohol) racing carburetors have been available for years, the technology should exist to produce carbs to use any mix of ethanol and gas. Also stainless steel fuel tanks and lines are available but expensive. So the forced use of light mixtures of ethanol in our Chevelles shouldn't be a huge concern. I've unsuccessfully tried to find out at what mixture the corrosive problems would require replacement of fuel system parts but the general consensus among fellow enthusiasts is that E10 wouldn't be a problem and possibly E20. So if forced to use say E10, we can re-jet our carbs (or not) and drive on. If E20 is the minimum, that may or may not be the case (as far as corrosion of parts). Time will tell, but at any rate it's not an insurmountable problem. With the right parts you could probably even set up your carbed Chevelle to run E85 if so desired.


So all the talk of ethanol becoming forced down our throats shouldn't be a huge worry to Chevelle owners. We'll still be able to drive and enjoy them as always. And if the use of ethanol helps lower the cost of gasoline and lessens our dependency on foreign oil, that's not a bad thing.