Is your E-15 GMO-free? And does it matter?

GMO E15 warning

GMO Free USA internet scare meme worries consumers about genetically engineer otganisms in E15 fuel.

Perhaps you’ve seen the above meme floating about Facebook, warning about the hazard of using E15 gasoline made with GMO corn in your pre-2012 automobile. According to the meme, the GMO-corn E15 will “DAMAGE YOUR CAR AND VOID YOUR WARRANTY.”

As is quite often the case with breathless alarms on the internet, that’s only a half-truth. Whether  GMO—genetically-modified organism—food is safe to consume is one thing, but your car doesn’t know the difference between GMO and non-GMO-sourced corn in the making of ethanol, or as it’s known in the chemistry lab, CH3CH2OH.

Ethanol is a flammable liquid—also the “oldest recreational drug used by humans”—that in addition to its presence in beverages is added to gasoline “reduce oil dependence and greenhouse gas emissions.” “Flex-fuel” vehicles can use up to 85 percent alcohol with 15 percent gasoline, and it’s known as E85, or more colloquially, gasohol.

Gasoline containing ten or 15 percent alcohol are known as E10 and E15 respectively. The former is typically sold at gas stations with nothing other than a small label indicating that the fuel may contain up to ten percent ethanol. It’s almost universally used in most areas, although straight gasoline can be found.

E15 Warning Label

The EPA E15 warning label advises consumers about the use of E15 fuel, but doesn’t go quite far enough.

As the Environmental Protection agency admits, “since ethanol contains about two-thirds as much energy as gasoline, vehicles will typically go 3% to 4% fewer miles per gallon on E10 and 4% to 5% fewer on E15 than on 100% gasoline.”

But as a “renewable” source of energy, the EPA figures that it is a net gain in reducing fossil fuel use. Ethanol is more expensive to produce than gasoline, however, consuming a substantial amount of energy in its production.  As a result, ethanol for fuel use has been subsidized.

But even though Al “Inconvenient Truth” Gore has reneged on supporting alcohol as motor fuel, an infrastructure of corn farmers, alcohol refiners and others in the ethanol pipeline has been established, and with that, political support.

Ergo, E15. If it’s a bad idea, let’s double down on it, especially if it means votes.

Ethanol is fairly corrosive to rubber and certain metals, however, and can damage to important components in a car’s fuel system. Ethanol also absorbs water, which creates its own problems in fuel tanks, and ethanol can harm fuel injectors, valve seats, and seals and gaskets.

According to the EPA, cars built for the U.S. from 2001 onward are certified for E10 use, and of course all Flex Fuel are E15 compatible as well. At least one study found “no significant degradation” of vehicle systems as far back as 1995.

All of which may be true, but auto manufacturers have certified cars built only relatively recently—GM and Ford have certified their own vehicles starting with the 2012 and 2013 model years—as being E15-friendly. According to Chrysler spokesman Eric Mayne, the company line is “Chrysler Group continues to recommend E10 for its vehicles that are not E85-compatible.”

In other words, check your warranty book. The owner’s manual was put there for more than filling the glove box.

And as to GMO corn content? The GMO Free USA folks are a bit overwrought. Although they’re mostly correct in saying that E15 shouldn’t be used in pre-2012 vehicles, in Chrysler-built vehicles, whether the corn used to make the ethanol is GMO or not, has per Mayne “no impact on Chrysler Group vehicles – provided the ethanol is used appropriately.” And that’s basically true for other manufacturers as well.

The GMO Free USA members need to go back to basic chemistry class.

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