The Basics of E-85 fuel

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E85 Fuel

E85 fuel is one of the few mass-market alternative fuels available at the moment. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

E-85 fuel, a blend of ethanol and petroleum fuel, has been touted as a crossover fuel solution. E-85 fuel has had a rough start, but it can be a viable option for fueling your car. Understanding how E-85 is made, how it works and how it can be used is important in this changing fuel economy.

What is E-85?

E-85 fuel is a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent unleaded petroleum fuel. E-85 is currently used most often in FlexFuel engines. The ethanol in E-85 is usually made from corn, though it can be made from just about any high-startch biomaterial, such as sugarcane or beets. The federal government defines E-85 as an alternative fuel.

How E-85 works

E-85 ethanol blend works much like regular fuel. Most fuel sold in the United States is already blended with 10 percent ethanol. The ethanol combusts much like petroleum and powers engines. FlexFuel engines are built specifically to accept E-85 fuel, and can also run on regular gasoline. However, you should never try to put E-85 in a non-flexfuel car. High percentage ethanol fuels can degrade the seals and parts of a regular engine very quickly.

The economics of E-85

E8-5 fuel has been touted as a potential replacement for petroleum fuel in the United States. There are still significant challenges to E-85 replacing regular gasoline, however. First of all, E-85 uses food crops to create fuel – which drives up food prices. The entire United States corn crop would only make 10 percent of the fuel used in the U.S. At the same time, cars driving on E-85 get 27 percent lower mileage than standard fuel – at roughly the same cost.

Should I use E-85?

E-85 vehicles, or FlexFuel vehicles, are available for sale in the United States. If you are lucky enough to live in an area of the country where E-85 fuel stations are available, then you may be tempted to get a FlexFuel car. Cost limitations, lower fuel economy and competition with the food economy are all working against E-85. A Flexfuel vehicle could be a good middle ground vehicle, if you have the money and access to ethanol fuels.

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