Supplier denies excess ethanol hurt police cars
The mystery of the paralyzed police cars remains. Yes, I realize this undercuts my speculation that a world awash in ethanol is prompting people to spike the gas supply with excess corn likker.
Contradicting statements by Baltimore officials, the supplier says gasoline blamed for crippling much of the city's police fleet last week did not contain excess amounts of ethanol. Norfolk, Va.-based IsoBunkers conducted its own tests and found the gas was 10 percent ethanol -- just what it was supposed to be, company President Charlie Joanedis told me on the phone.
"They obviously had a problem with a certain number of their vehicles, but we still don't know what caused the problem," Joanedis said. "We took a sample out of the tank at the filling station and sent it to a petroleum inspection company. Everything they tested was on spec."
A week ago more than 200 police cars had problems after being filled with IsoBunkers gas. As much as a third of Baltimore's fleet was briefly out of action. City officials tested the fuel and blamed ethanol, which is added by law to reduce pollution and is also the subject of a huge federal subsidy directed toward corn farmers and refiners.
IsoBunkers got the gas from a Baltimore marine terminal, where the ethanol was added as it went into the truck, Joanedis said. From there the truck went straight to the city service station, he said.
"We want to find the answer," he said, just like the city. "We didn't make the gas. If our supplier gave us bad gas I want to know about it and I want to go back to them for recourse."
Joanedis wondered why only police cars and not other city vehicles seemed to be affected. One theory, which he admitted was speculative: Perhaps the Chevies were unusually sensitive to normal seasonal changes in the gas formula that take place at the end of September.
Given IsoBunkers' results, the city will continue its inquiry, said Khalil Zaied, director of general services.
"We're not done yet," Zaied said. "If the outcome of their work came up agreeing with ours, we would probably stop investigating."
UPDATE: This is a response from Matt Hartwig at the Renewable Fuels Association. He responded to my original post last week. I meant to include it with this post & forgot. Matt sez:
This issue of improper blending by some petroleum marketers is serious and our industry does not support selling ethanol blends in excess of 10% unless they are properly labeled for use in flex fuel vehicles designed to use higher level ethanol blends. However, you seem to blame the fuel itself for finding its way into gasoline in higher than recommended levels rather than the people doing the blending.
When used properly, ethanol has proven a very effective fuel additive, and in the case of E85, a gasoline replacement. In fact, the entire Indy Car Series uses pure ethanol to fuel its race cars, as do some drivers in Brazil.
While we certainly have concerns about your mischaracterization of the environmental and energy securities values of ethanol, this is an issue on which we both can agree: ethanol, like all fuel additives, should be used within the bounds of the law.
Director of Public Affairs
Renewable Fuels Association