You might have heard of “flex-fuel” cars, which can run on normal gasoline or a type of fuel called E85, but at the same time, you might be puzzled by their existence.
As E85 fuel is so rare, it may seem odd for manufacturers to even bother making vehicles that rely on it. Not to mention, cars that run on E85 often get worse mileage — by as much as 25% in some cases — so what’s the point?
E85 Vs. Regular Gas
Despite its name, E85 is a mix of anywhere between 51% and 83% ethanol and regular gasoline. These days, most pumped gas contains at least 10% ethanol, but care must be taken in designing engines and fuel systems for higher ethanol-to-gas ratios, as ethanol is highly corrosive to most of the materials used in standard fuel systems, including aluminum and rubber. It also contains around 33% less energy than regular gasoline.
Why Use E85?
Despite ethanol’s lower energy and corrosive nature, it does, indeed, provide some serious benefits, such as:
1. A High Octane Rating
High-performance cars usually have high compression ratios or turbo/supercharging, but with low-octane fuel, their engines will experience detonation or knocking, which is when the fuel cannot burn fast enough and thus detonates more than once. High-octane fuels burn faster, preventing detonation, and while the average car can get away with 87-octane fuel, performance cars require 91 or 93-octane.
In comparison, E85 has an octane rating of over 100, which means the engines designed to use it can push compression ratios or forced induction with turbochargers and superchargers far beyond what’s possible with standard gasoline. For example, the new Dodge Charger Demon 170 generates 900 horsepower on standard gasoline but delivers 1,025 running on E85.
2. Cooler and Cleaner Burning
As corrosive as E85 can be for some fuel system materials, it burns far cleaner and cooler than gasoline with no carbon buildup. In fact, E85 can actually clean deposits on fuel injectors and in combustion chambers, and it creates much fewer harmful emissions when burning as well.
3. Being Better for the Environment
From its production to consumption, E85 is more ecologically friendly than generic gas. Ethanol comes from corn, and harvesting crops results in a lower carbon footprint than refining petroleum products.
Should You Switch to E85?
Unfortunately, if your car wasn’t designed to handle E85, you can’t just pour it in the tank and hope for the best.
Still, that doesn’t mean that E85 is off-limits. E85 conversion kits are available for many models and makes of vehicles, allowing anyone who wants to take advantage of its benefits to do so with some simple parts-swapping.
There are already more than 4,200 stations in the U.S. that carry E85 fuel, a number that will only grow in the near future, and though the fuel may be relatively uncommon now, it won’t be for long. If you’re looking to lower your carbon footprint or build a high-horsepower muscle machine, converting to E85 can help you achieve your goals.