Ethanol has been around since before the introduction of automobiles. However, among many other things was made famous by the Model T Ford.
“Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it is black.”, is often quoted when describing the few choices that customers had when purchasing a new Model T Ford.
However, when it came to fuel choices, turns out Henry Ford gave customers more than one choice. He gave them, well, two. But hey, that’s more than one.
The Model T was equipped with a carburetor that had jets that were adjustable. When customers wanted to change from using petroleum derived gasoline to ethanol, they would simply need to adjust the jets in the carburetor.
If drivers wanted to change back, you guessed it, another simple jetting change. Maybe not “simple” but a task that I am sure was doable for vehicle owners of the day.
If you were really adventurous or mechanically inclined, you could also use a mixture of both fuels as well. Very similar to the fuel blends we have today.
What is Ethanol?
Ethanol is a type of alcohol-based fuel that is colorless and completely clear. This fuel can be made from many different types of biomass materials depending on the location in the world that it is produced. The materials that are used in the production are known as feedstocks.
For example, in the U.S the most popular type of biomass to use is corn. The second largest ethanol producer after the U.S, Brazil, uses sugar cane. There are also certain types of grasses that can be used as well to produce this fuel as well.
The fuel is produced most commonly through a process called Fermentation. Corn kernels contain starch which is fermented into sugar. Once converted to sugar it is fermented further, this time producing alcohol.
What is the difference between E10 and E85?
The simple answer is the amount of ethanol content that is mixed with petroleum-based gasoline.
Ethanol has a lower heating value that regular gasoline. This lower heating value makes it harder for your vehicle to start when the temperature begins to drop during those cold winter months.
Because of this reason in the U.S as well as Canada, Ethanol needs to be blended. Also, ethanol contains a roughly 1/3 lower energy content as well.
In warmer climates such as Brazil, this fact does not affect them, and they are able to run on fuels that are 100 % ethanol content.
E10 fuels contain 10% ethanol content, 90% gasoline content.
E85 fuels need to contain between 51-83% ethanol content to be able to be called E85.
The reason that the fuel ranges between 51-83% is because of the reasons I stated above. As I mentioned in colder climates the heat value affects the performance of ethanol fuels.
So, in colder weather the blend will contain less ethanol to ensure proper start up performance in colder weather. Very similar to the changes that occur at your local fuel station with diesel fuels.
What is a Flex-Fuel ready vehicle?
Because ethanol is alcohol based it requires a few different materials in the fuel system to ensure that it can run the fuel safely.
First, manufacturers must ensure that they use fuel system components that are able to withstand the corrosive nature of the alcohol-based ethanol.
The vehicle must also have a way of monitoring the amount of ethanol in the fuel and make the adjustments accordingly.
Remember the Model T drivers would need to adjust their carburetors. Thankfully modern-day drivers do not have to worry about this.
Some vehicles use a Flex fuel sensor that is able to detect the ethanol content of the fuel. Other manufacturers use the oxygen sensors that are already equipped on the vehicle.
By monitoring the oxygen content in the exhaust, the fuel system can adjust the fuel mixture accordingly to ensure that they reach the perfect stoichiometric mixture.
Can my vehicle use E85?
Open your fuel door and quickly check the fuel cap. If your fuel cap is yellow your vehicle is Flex-Fuel ready. If your fuel cap is any other color, than your vehicle is not E85 or Flex-Fuel capable.
Where can I fill up with E85?
Currently E85 is available at many locations across the U.S. 3900 stations across 42 different states provide vehicle owners with many options when it comes to refueling their vehicles.
Check out this awesome map to find a location near you.
In 2020 there were roughly 12.6 billion gallons if ethanol fuel that was used in the United States alone. This is not only E85 fuel. This is the total consumption of ethanol fuel. If you look at fuel consumption in the United States, roughly 10% of that fuel by volume is ethanol-based fuel.
In Canada there are regulations that require fuels to contain 10% ethanol based on volume. Some fuel producers still do not put ethanol fuel in their premium fuel, 92 octane and above.
However, this is not the rule and can change from day to day. So be careful when assuming that the fuel you are buying does not contain any ethanol.