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Ethanol is alcohol used in transportation fuels. It is a high octane, liquid, domestic and renewable fuel, produced by the fermentation of plant sugars. In the United States, ethanol is typically produced from corn and other grain products, although in the future it may be economically produced from other biomass resources such as agricultural and forestry wastes or specially grown energy crops. In Iowa, ethanol is produced from corn, at 4 state-of-the-art facilities.
What is E85?
E85 is the term for motor fuel blends of up to 85 percent ethanol and just 15 percent gasoline. E85 is an alternative fuel as defined by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Why should we use ethanol?
Besides its superior performance characteristics, ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline; it is a completely renewable, domestic, environment friendly fuel that enhances the nation’s economy and energy security. Today the U. S. imports more than half of its oil, and overall consumption continues to increase. By supporting ethanol production and use, U.S. drivers can help reverse that trend.
85% ethanol can reduce pollution. Government tests have shown that E85 vehicles reduce harmful hydrocarbon and benzene emissions when compared to vehicles running on gasoline.
E85 can also reduce carbon dioxide (CO2), a harmful greenhouse gas and a major contributor to global warming. Although CO2 is released during ethanol production and combustion, it is recaptured as a nutrient to the crops that are used in its production. Unlike fossil fuel combustion, which unlocks carbon that has been stored for millions of years, use of ethanol results in low increases to the carbon cycle.
Ethanol also degrades quickly in water and, therefore, poses much less risk to the environment than an oil or gasoline spill.
What is a flexible fuel vehicle?
A flexible fuel vehicle (FFV) is specially designed to run on any ethanol blend up to 85% ethanol. Special onboard diagnostics "read" the fuel blend, enabling drivers to fuel with E85 or gasoline in any combination from a single tank. There are no switches to flip, no mixing or blending. The computer adjusts the FFV’s fuel injection and ignition timing to compensate for the different fuel mixtures.
What happens when E85 is not available?
The FFV system allows the driver to use any combination of gasoline or ethanol—from 100 percent unleaded gasoline to 85 percent ethanol. A driver can therefore use unleaded gasoline if ethanol is not available.
What are the differences in an FFV compared to a regular gasoline-only model? Are different parts used?
There is only one major additional part that is included on an FFV—the fuel sensor that detects the ethanol/gasoline ratio. A number of other parts on the FFV’s fuel delivery system are modified so that they are ethanol compatible. The fuel tank, fuel lines, fuel injectors, computer system, anti-siphon device and dashboard gauges have been modified slightly. Alcohols are corrosive. Therefore, any part that comes in contact with the fuel has been upgraded to be tolerant to alcohol. Normally, these parts include a stainless steel fuel tank and Teflon lined fuel hoses.
Does an FFV cost more than a gasoline-only model?
When manufacturers offer a flexible fuel engine as an option in their vehicles, there is no additional cost. In model year 1998, manufacturers began making flexible fuel engines standard equipment on certain makes and models, therefore with a specific model you can only get an E85 flexible fuel engine—no gasoline-only engines are available, therefore no additional cost is incurred.
What is the range of a flexible fuel ethanol vehicle?
Ethanol has less energy content than gasoline. However, E85 also has a much higher octane (ranging from 100 to 105) than gasoline. FFVs are not optimized to E85, so they experience a 5% to 15% drop in fuel economy. This will vary based on temperature and driving conditions. For comparison purposes, aggressive driving habits can result in a 20% loss and low tire pressure can reduce mileage by 6%.
Research indicates Ford FFVs experience a 5% horsepower gain on E85.
The range of any particular vehicle is dependent on the size of the fuel tank and driving habits. Current Ford Taurus FFVs have an 18-gallon fuel tank and will normally travel 350 miles between refuelings.
Can a car be retrofitted or converted to use E85?
We do not recommend the conversion of a gasoline-only vehicle to operate on E85. FFVs that come with original equipment from the manufacturer have the same warranties as gasoline vehicles and they are specially suited to use E85 as efficiently as possible and to burn cleaner.
Are repairs and maintenance costs for FFVs any different than they are for gasoline?
No, the costs are roughly the same as regular auto repairs and maintenance. An FFV does run cleaner and, therefore, some maintenance costs may actually be reduced in the long run. One FFV model line still required a special, higher-lubricating oil in model year 2000.
How much ethanol does the U.S. have?
Today, U.S. ethanol producers have the capacity to produce nearly 2 billion gallons each year. Ethanol is a renewable resource that is primarily made from corn, other grains and waste products.
Will we deplete human and animal food supplies by using corn and other grains for fuel production?
No, actually the production of ethanol from corn uses only the starch of the corn kernel, all of the valuable protein, minerals and nutrients remain. One bushel of corn produces about 2.7 gallons of ethanol AND 11.4 pounds of gluten feed (20% protein) AND 3 pounds of gluten meal (60% protein) AND 1.6 pounds of corn oil.
Does it take more energy to produce a gallon of ethanol than the energy we get out of it?
No. Current research indicates an approximate 38% gain in the overall corn-to-ethanol process and use of that ethanol for fuel. Corn yields and processing technologies have improved significantly over the past 20 years and they continue to do so, making ethanol production less and less energy intensive.
What is the octane rating of E85 compared to gasoline?
Regular unleaded gasoline has an octane rating of 87; E85 has an octane rating ranging from 100-105 making it a high performance fuel. Ford FFVs produce a 5% horsepower gain when using E85.
Is E85 more toxic or dangerous than gasoline?
No. 100% ethanol can be and is ingested by human beings. The fuel ethanol must be "denatured" with gasoline or a bitter agent to prevent ingestion. Also, ethanol does not contain the harmful carcinogens and toxins found in gasoline.
If E85 is spilled on the ground, can it contaminate ground water?
Ethanol is water soluble, non-toxic and biodegradable. E85 contains roughly 80% less of the potential contaminates found in gasoline.
Will I hurt a gasoline-only vehicle if I use E85?
Yes. Longer-term use of E85 in gasoline-only vehicles may cause damage because of the incompatibility of the alcohol fuel with the parts in gasoline-only engines. Performance and emissions will also be compromised.
What is the price of E85?
As is the case with all forms of fuel, the larger the number of outlets, typically, the more competitively priced is the fuel. E85 is priced to be competitive with 87-octane gasoline. In Iowa, prices typically range about 8-10 cents more than regular unleaded.