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E15 Biofuel in NASCAR and Spreading Across the Country

  • Friday, 09 June 2017 11:38

Independent Tribune

June 5, 2017

By Erin Kidd

When Austin Dillon crossed the finish line and made his way to Victory Lane at the Coca-Cola 600, there were smiles from all of his supporters and probably from Dr. Andy Randolph, technical director of ECR Engines.

ECR Engines is a high-performance engine production, research and development company located on the Richard Childress Racing campus in Welcome, North Carolina. The company makes engines for Richard Childress Racing, for which Dillon is a driver.

“If you think of building an engine like making dinner, my role is to define an engine recipe; one that will make good power and have good durability,” Randolph said. “Then, a whole group of people make engines to that recipe. They are all hand-built. It’s like a mini-automotive company.”

Randolph has been part of five NASCAR Cup teams in his career, and recently visited the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to give a presentation on engine performance and ethanol-based biofuel E15, which has been used by NASCAR exclusively since 2011.

During his presentation, he gave some insight into why E15 biofuel is a valuable alternative for high-performance vehicles and everyday cars.

“I really just talked to them about ethanol as a fuel for automotive engines as a whole, going over advantages and disadvantages,” Randolph said. “I enjoy talking to students. They tend to come in unbiased and generate opinions based on facts. They also learn a few things and like to watch things explode.”

Randolph’s research focuses on the combustion properties of alcohol/diesel and alcohol/oil blends and has contributed to five NASCAR championships with three different teams.

He said the key to high-performance road cars is having high-octane fuel, which can be accomplished in many ways. Until about 2006, Randolph said NASCAR teams used leaded fuel.

“Lead has high octane characteristic with very bad blood toxins,” Randolph said. “In the sport, you are handling the fuel and practically drinking it every day. People didn’t want to die from lead poisoning or grow an arm out of their head.”

Eventually teams went to unleaded, but Randolph believes that ethanol is the way to go and the safest.

He told UNCC students that with ethanol, hydrogen burns very clean while gasoline produces more carbon emissions when burned.

“Ethanol burns with a very transparent, blue flame. The ethanol molecule has oxygen in it. To have combustion you need fuel and oxygen. Gasoline doesn’t have any oxygen itself. When you don’t have the perfect ratio of gasoline to air, the flame will get yellow or black,” Randolph said. "With ethanol, there is oxygen in the fuel; therefore the carbon doesn’t have to only get its oxygen out of the air. That allows it to burn much cleaner.”

Randolph also said that ethanol is the least expensive octane booster. And people that choose to fuel their personal vehicles with it, will end up spending less at the pump.

"The first thing skeptics point to is that you tend to have a very small decrease in fuel mileage. The reason is because it takes more volume of fuel to make a given amount of energy,” Randolph said. “The counter argument to that is it’s considerably cheaper. I tend to worry about how much it costs me to drive. I worry more about miles per dollar than miles per gallon.”

E15 is available in 29 states, including North Carolina.

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