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Problems with E85 Fuel

by Colby Stream

Ethanol has been seen by the general public as an alternative fuel with almost zero drawbacks. While E85, a mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, does produce less pollution and is renewable through growing the corn used in its creation, it has some problems that anyone considering converting a vehicle to E85 or buying one that uses the fuel should consider.

Produces Less Energy

Ethanol produces about 25 to 30 percent less energy than gasoline, which means you get less miles to the gallon in the long run. While many people have already heard this, they haven't considered how it affects the amount of energy it takes to produce E85 in relation to the amount of energy it produces. The United States Department of Agriculture reported in 2010 that ethanol returns 1.42 energy by ratio than is put into it. This number, however, does not take into account secondary inputs. Secondary inputs are parts of the ethanol creation process, such as the machines that gather the corn. Given this and the varying report numbers, there is no definitive study that proves ethanol produces more or less energy than it takes to produce it. However, even if you assume that ethanol produces the same amount of energy it takes to produce it, you're still getting about 25 to 30 percent less energy than you would get with gasoline in your daily driving.

Less Value

When you buy E85 at the pump, it does not cost more than gasoline. It costs less, but this is without taking into account how much energy you get out of E85 versus gasoline. You get about 25 to 30 percent less energy from ethanol. For example, to determine the comparative price of E85, with a purchase price of $2.49/gallon, you would divide this figure by .70 to get the true value of $3.56/gallon. The important factor here is to look at the numbers comparatively. Although E85 may look less expensive at a first glance, it's often not when you start doing the math and comparing the relative numbers.

Corrosive

Ethanol corrodes a number of materials, including plastic, fiberglass and other parts of the engine. Corrosion will either contaminate the fuel or destroy parts of the engine, such as the fuel line. However, this doesn't apply to cars that are designed to run on E85. These vehicles are built with materials that ethanol won't corrode. That being said, it's a factor to consider if you plan to convert your own vehicle to E85. To complete the conversion process, you'll need to replace any plastic or rubber engine parts, such as seals and hose lines, that the E85 comes into contact with. Many of the seals you'll need to replace are part of the engine block itself, making the conversion both difficult and expensive.

Hard to Find

Nationwide in March 2011 the United States only had 2,345 E85 fueling stations compared to 116,855 total gasoline stations in June 2008. Many states, such as Connecticut and Maine, didn't have any E85 stations, and many states had no more than 100 stations, with the most being located in Minnesota at 369 stations. While this number is growing, there is no guarantee about the production of future stations. You can find the most current listing of E85 fueling station locations on the U.S. Department Of Energy's website.

About the Author

Colby Stream has been a writer since 2007. His work has appeared in "The Arbiter," the student newspaper of Boise State University, as well as various websites. Stream graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in communication as a presidential civic leadership scholar.

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