Not all automakers are ready to jump on the ethanol bandwagon. E85 is one of many alternative fuels that Toyota is considering, but currently the company has no plans to produce flexible fuel vehicles for sale in the U.S. Honda does not offer any E85 vehicles in the U.S. either, but it supports blends of E10 in gasoline. "We are concerned about reliance on significantly higher levels of ethanol until we develop a more efficient production process relying on a product other than corn," said Ed Cohen, American Honda's vice president of government and industry relations.
Why Should You Use Ethanol?
You may already be using a blend of ethanol and gasoline in your vehicle and not even know it. Ethanol is used across the country in quantities of 5-10 percent to reduce smog-forming emissions and greenhouse gases. In 2004, the use of ethanol in the U.S. reduced greenhouse gas emissions by about 7 million tons, according to the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory. That's the equivalent of removing the emissions from over 1 million vehicles on the road. In addition, ethanol is highly biodegradable, making it safer for the environment in the event of spills or leaks into the soil.
A 10-percent blend, called E10, is most common and is required in all gasoline sold in Hawaii, Minnesota and Montana, while a dozen other states are currently considering enacting similar mandates. Because all vehicles sold in the U.S. are made to run on ethanol blends up to E10, the only way to tell you are using a low-level ethanol blend is by checking the label on the pump when you refuel, although not all states require such labeling.
E85 is dispensed at pumps with the E85 logo and can only be used in flexible fuel vehicles. Currently, vehicles cannot be modified to run on E85 without violating federal standards. See the "Flex Fuel Vehicles Available" list below to see if you own a vehicle that is E85-compatible.
If you own one of the 5 million E85-capable vehicles, fueling with E85 is not only beneficial to the environment, you'll most likely see a small increase in performance, which will be accompanied by a small decrease in fuel economy. On average, when flexible fuel vehicles are powered by E85, the vehicles have about 5-percent more horsepower and a 10-percent drop in fuel-efficiency. The added power comes from ethanol's higher octane rating (ranging from 100-105). The fuel economy decrease comes from the fact that ethanol has a lower energy content than gasoline, which means you have to use more of it.
Flexible fuel vehicles are only minimally different from their gasoline-only counterparts. Typically, the vehicle's fuel delivery system is replaced with stainless steel or Teflon-coated components to ensure the E85 does not corrode them. In addition, there is a fuel sensor that detects the ratio of gasoline to ethanol. According to Lampert, early research indicates that because vehicles powered by E85 run so much cleaner than gasoline vehicles, some maintenance costs may actually be less than gasoline vehicles' in the long term.