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View Full Version : Ethanol Fuel (E85) - Would you use it?



Delta
08-16-2006, 02:09 PM
I'm just curious as to the opinions and thoughts of CCers about E85 fuel.

Basically, it's a blend of fuel that is 85% ethanol (made from corn at the moment) and 15% unleaded gas. Many late-model domestic cars can run on it (and many people who own them may or may not even know this) and are also known as flex-fuel capable. Here (http://www.e85fuel.com/e85101/flexfuelvehicles.php) is a link with all E85-capable cars.

Right now E85 fuel is pretty pricey because there is a huge shortage of it, although more ethanol plants are set to go online in the next 12 months, which will reduce the price. Also, as the technology advances and the production of it becomes more efficient, the price should drop.

Right now retailers are beginning to introduce the product to market. Most likely you DON'T have a station near you, although that will probably change in the next year or 2. Here is a database of current stations - http://www.e85refueling.com/

The biggest disadvantage to the consumer besides the current market price (which is expected to go down eventually, although it is competitive with regular gasoline, and some retailers are actually selling it at a temporary loss in order to make it competitive) is that it is less efficient than petroleum gas (except for on acceleration), and will require more fill-ups, most likely.

My questions are:

Would you consider using E85 fuel if it was cheaper per gallon than regular gas?

If it was about the same per gallon as regular gas? (Though, keep in mind it's less efficient.)

Even if it were more per gallon than regular gas?

And why?

yby1
08-16-2006, 02:21 PM
I would use it even if it's just a little more than petrol gas since it's a cleaner burning fuel. I wonder what the long term ramifications for using this type of fuel will be, though it should be better than using fossil fuel, like we do now.

SiValleySteph
08-16-2006, 02:21 PM
I would consider it due to the carbon neutral aspect of it (the carbon dioxide produced by your car is offset by the carbon dioxide the plant consumes as it is growing) and also due to the fact it decreases our dependency on foreign fuel sources. Price wise, about the same price per gallon is about where I would consider it.

But, I thought it's not really practical because of the fossil fuels used in farming of the crop. And is it corn in the US? Isn't corn less efficient for ethanol production than other crops?

What I really want is a plug-in hybrid. And to get my solar panels. Then I will be happy! :D For now, I offset my car's CO2 production with Terra Pass (http://www.terrapass.com).

yby1
08-16-2006, 02:25 PM
I have a Terra Pass too :cool:

FEIrider
08-16-2006, 02:25 PM
I had to take an energy conversion class last quarter & my prof spent a lot of time discussing alternative fuel sources. Many of the leading energy experts actually view E85 as a negative energy source; meaning that the amount of energy that goes into making it is greater than the energy you can get out of it. This is not true of most of the energy sources we use today, like oil and natural gas. So from an environmental standpoint, E85 is probably not the answer, even though it is somewhat of a renewable energy source.

That being said, I would definitely consider using it if it was more economical.

GeekGirl
08-16-2006, 02:26 PM
I support any sort of alternative fuel research, and I think E85 fuel could be a great thing for our economy. Just a FYI, I am speaking strictly from general impressions I have based on what I have heard about E85 in the media - I haven't done any hard and fast research on the subject.

Petroleum fuel may currently be more efficient, but we are heavily reliant on international trade in order to meet demand - international trade from areas of the world that aren't too keen on us anymore. Prices on traditional petroleum gas have been rising drastically - is there any reason to believe that the prices will drop? Furthermore, there has been an increasing domestic problem with farms failing financially. I feel that this could be a great opportunity to revert our sights back to domestic markets, creating more jobs and generating more income here at home. As E85 and other alternative fuel technologies advance, the market and practical usage for these alternatives will only improve.

So yes, I would consider using E85 fuel. I can't with my current vehicle, but when my lease is up in another year and a half, DH and I are seriously considering purchasing an alternative fuel car, depending on what is on the market at the time.

Delta
08-16-2006, 02:32 PM
But, I thought it's not really practical because of the fossil fuels used in farming of the crop. And is it corn in the US? Isn't corn less efficient for ethanol production than other crops?
Right now it's made with corn in the US. Although, with current advances in the R&D of ethonal, in a few years it will probably be made much more cheaply and efficiently with cellulosic technology, which allows for the use of crops such as switchgrass and even agriculture and industrial waste.

The controversy about the fossil fuels used in the farming originate from a study by David Pimental from Cornell, much of which has been discredited.


I had to take an energy conversion class last quarter & my prof spent a lot of time discussing alternative fuel sources. Many of the leading energy experts actually view E85 as a negative energy source; meaning that the amount of energy that goes into making it is greater than the energy you can get out of it. This is not true of most of the energy sources we use today, like oil and natural gas. So from an environmental standpoint, E85 is probably not the answer, even though it is somewhat of a renewable energy source.

Here (http://thefraserdomain.typepad.com/energy/2005/04/comments_on_eth.html) is a good explanation about the net energy value of ethanol.

Delta
08-16-2006, 02:35 PM
Also, for those of you looking at it from an environmental standpoint, the NRDC endorses the use of ethanol fuel. (http://www.nrdc.org/air/transportation/ethanol/ethanol.asp)

SiValleySteph
08-16-2006, 02:37 PM
I think it's so exciting the advances that are being made in more environmentally friendly technology!

This also reminds me of the new corn & sugarcane based plastics. The sugarcane one is made from the byproducts after the juice is extracted, I think. I'm no expert, though!

Happy1
08-16-2006, 02:45 PM
Would you consider using E85 fuel if it was cheaper per gallon than regular gas? Heck yeah. It actually is cheaper per gallon than regular gas. At least it is in our area. We've done the math calculating out how many miles per gallon we get off of it. You do get less per mile but moneywise you're still ahead here.

If it was about the same per gallon as regular gas? (Though, keep in mind it's less efficient.) Yes we would still use it because this supports the U.S. farming economy which we are part of.

Even if it were more per gallon than regular gas? It would depend on how much more. If it's a lot more than we would be stupid to keep using it just to "support the cause".

And why? Many of the research ads that are out there against Ethanol are false. The articles that say more energy goes into making it than the product produces is wrong because they aren't taking into account that the waste from making Ethanol can then be used as feed and other various things. Therefore if you take the energy it takes to grow corn that makes feed alone (or to put towards the other items), you'll find that you'll come out miles ahead by first going this route energy-wise.

ETA: Don't get the farmers started on this one. They could talk literally for hours on end about this. And as for some of the articles out there that are written by professors sitting at a desk who never viewed the process-whooo boy. Talk about hot tempers! :p

Nikki :D

SiValleySteph
08-16-2006, 02:49 PM
Thanks happy1 for weighing in from the farmer's perspective!

Also, I have heard in Brazil that 50% of their fuel comes from ethanol. If it was so inefficient, why would they be doing that?

t3h_wookiee
08-16-2006, 02:53 PM
I know that here in Oklahoma there are two large plants being built to process soybeans as fuel, and that Willie Nelson is a big advocate of it. I haven't read much about it yet (I really need to do that!), but is the soybean fuel a type of ethanol too? I'm really interested in the soy stuff because soy is such a huge crop here in the state.

MidwesternGal
08-16-2006, 02:58 PM
I TOTALLY agree with Happy1. I second all of her points wholeheartedly and couldn't have said it better myself.

For my own "personal" experience with it (based on my life/those around me, not necessarily hard research):

My father relies SOLEY on corn and soybeans for his source of income (my mom is a teacher). Small and mid-size farmers are being pushed out by large corporate farm "factories" and it's harder than ever to make a living (25-30k a year is considered a very good year; 15-25k is average where I'm from, for those with farms the size of my parents). E85 can help out all farmers, small and large. And like Happy1 pointed out, much of the "waste" can be used for soemthing else productive.

Beyond the scope of individual families and the midwest region, we need to help keep farm production in the US instead of turning again to imports to keep our country running.

In my area, the price is significantly cheaper to run E85--think at least 10 cents a gallon.

As for the price being higher. . . I still buy regular ethanol even if the price is a few cents higher because in the long run, it's better for me, my family, and my country.

MsRo
08-16-2006, 03:02 PM
Would you consider using E85 fuel if it was cheaper per gallon than regular gas? Here in MN we have many E85 stations, or at least the option to purchase it next to regular 87, 90, and 92 octane fuel. The vehicle I drive now will not take E85 so, no. At this point I can't consider it.

If it was about the same per gallon as regular gas? (Though, keep in mind it's less efficient.) If it were the same price, and my vehicle could run on it, I probably still wouldn't use it. I put nearly 25K miles a year on my car. With E85 being less efficient, I'd have to fill up my gas tank every other day instead of every 3-4 days.

Even if it were more per gallon than regular gas? I wouldn't be able to justify the expense.

Cath
08-16-2006, 03:05 PM
Would I use it - yes. I used to do a lot of work on energy and agriculture policy, and I am a firm believer that ethanol is positive all the way around. I also have lots of ties to midwest agriculture.

I don't have time to get into much detail, but I even know of one company that is working on ways to make ethanol using the sugars in old soda or beer.

SiValleySteph
08-16-2006, 03:20 PM
I should add that I don't drive very much (5k miles a year) and I only fill up my tank about 1-1/2 times a month, so I wouldn't mind filling up 2x a month instead and paying a little more. DH drives more (maybe 10k miles a year), but I think he would go for it as well. I feel it's in our best interest to pay a bit more for environmentally friendly options. Hopefully, the price will be less over time and then everyone will get on board, but we want to do our parts as early adapters.

MsRo
08-16-2006, 03:23 PM
.... I feel it's in our best interest to pay a bit more for environmentally friendly options. Hopefully, the price will be less over time and then everyone will get on board, but we want to do our parts as early adapters.

I do agree with this. And when my Jeep dies on me maybe I'll be able to use E85. :)

GeekGirl
08-16-2006, 03:27 PM
I do agree with this. And when my Jeep dies on me maybe I'll be able to use E85. :)

Or trade it in for a flex-fuel friendly Jeep. I'm so glad they're making them now, I'd be heartbroken if I had to choose between an alternative fuel car and my beloved Jeeps! :)

MsRo
08-16-2006, 03:31 PM
Or trade it in for a flex-fuel friendly Jeep. I'm so glad they're making them now, I'd be heartbroken if I had to choose between an alternative fuel car and my beloved Jeeps! :)


Heh. My Jeep isn't worth crap! It's got 188K miles on it. Since its made it this far I have a thing about driving it until it putters to the side of the road.

Both the boy and I drive Jeeps (he's a Jeep mechanic) and love love love them!

thelittlebabu
08-16-2006, 03:31 PM
Right now it's made with corn in the US. Although, with current advances in the R&D of ethonal, in a few years it will probably be made much more cheaply and efficiently with cellulosic technology, which allows for the use of crops such as switchgrass and even agriculture and industrial waste.
The cellulosic technology is the key. Not only with cost, but with scalability. Not enough people understand how much land would be needed (and waste created) to grow enough ethanol-dedicated corn for all of the vehicles on the road. Corn-based ethanol doesn't scale well for those kinds of magnitudes.

I look forward to the day that cellulosic technology takes a firm hold in the automotive fuel industry.

GeekGirl
08-16-2006, 03:34 PM
Heh. My Jeep isn't worth crap! It's got 188K miles on it. Since its made it this far I have a thing about driving it until it putters to the side of the road.

Both the boy and I drive Jeeps (he's a Jeep mechanic) and love love love them!



I guess that's the problem with purchasing such a reliable car. Damn Jeeps. :D

Delta
08-16-2006, 03:44 PM
Also, I have heard in Brazil that 50% of their fuel comes from ethanol. If it was so inefficient, why would they be doing that?They can make their ethanol from sugarcane, of which there is plenty down there. Sugarcane is a much more efficient source of ethanol than corn. There are a few plants in the SE coming online in the US that will make ethanol from sugarcane (which will be grown in the Caribbean and Louisiana and I think parts of SE Texas.)

Brandles
08-16-2006, 03:44 PM
YES!!! And there's an ethanol plant coming right outside of town soon (it's been in the paper...I don't follow it that closely...they broke ground last month)! :)

Did anyone else see that special on Dateline back in May or June about Brazil's usage of it and how most cars there are "flex fuel"--accepting gas OR ethanol? I thought that was pretty good.

A few weeks later, there was a political cartoon in the paper...the US caught in the jaws of an animal (with a sign proclaiming it to be mid-east oil or something) and Brazil just sailing out of the jaws with the help of Ethanol. I loved it...but I didn't save it and I can't find it on-line. Does anyone know which one I'm talking about--if so, please post it! Thanks! :)

Sophia
08-16-2006, 03:48 PM
I'd use it even if it were a little more than regular fuel because it's cleaner burning and mostly renewable.

SingleWhiteFemale
08-16-2006, 03:49 PM
Also, I have heard in Brazil that 50% of their fuel comes from ethanol. If it was so inefficient, why would they be doing that?There was a special on CNN this weekend about this! I didn't catch it all though. But a large chunk of the show went into how that when the crisis of the 70's occurred, Brazil looked towards alternative energy. I believe their ethanol comes from sugar cane. Anywho, within a few years, Brazil will be 100% energy independant. They grow their own crops for fuel, and refine it themselves. Quite remarkable, actually! Makes one wonder if we had made even slight changes back then, where we could be now...

Delta
08-16-2006, 03:54 PM
Did anyone else see that special on Dateline back in May or June about Brazil's usage of it and how most cars there are "flex fuel"--accepting gas OR ethanol? I thought that was pretty good.As I posted in my first post, many late-model domestic (and some imported) cars here in the US are flex-fuel as well.
I'll post the link again - http://www.e85fuel.com/e85101/flexfuelvehicles.php (http://www.e85fuel.com/e85101/flexfuelvehicles.php)

bciob22
08-16-2006, 04:00 PM
I don't remember a lot about it, but when I was little (Yeah I'm old I remember when gas was 29 cents/ gal) ethanol was a choice at the gas station. I asked my mom about it and one of the main reasons they did away with it was it didn't pay for farmers to grow the needed crops because at the time the government paid them more to sit on non-producing land.

bookworm
08-16-2006, 04:07 PM
Sure, if my car took it (I looked at the list; it does not). I'd want to read a bit more to find out, but in general I'm in favor of renewable energy. I'd pay a bit of a premium (5-10%) over regular gas.

I don't drive much, though, and I still think that's better--I have a small car, and drive as little as possible (I live in an area where I can walk or take public transportation).

SiValleySteph
08-16-2006, 04:11 PM
I looked at that list of cars and the Nissan and Mazda ones were huge trucks. Who needs a V8? Are there any small flex fuel cars? Like, I have a 4 cylinder Nissan Sentra that meets my needs very well.

SingleWhiteFemale
08-16-2006, 04:28 PM
Are there any small flex fuel cars? Like, I have a 4 cylinder Nissan Sentra that meets my needs very well.The 2006 and 2007 model year Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Chevrolet Impala are FlexFuel cars. Both are 3.5 liter V6.

villanelle75
08-16-2006, 04:33 PM
Since I didn't see Toyota on that list, I guess my Echo isn't' Ethanol compatible so it is a moot point. However, hypothetically, I would pay slightly more for ethanol because of both the environmental implications and the foreign policy implications.

I'm getting everyone in my family a Terra Pass for Christmas. They will think I'm crazy, especially my dad, but I feel great about the idea. (They'll get something else as well since I know they won't be excited about the TPs.)

SiValleySteph
08-16-2006, 04:48 PM
I'm getting everyone in my family a Terra Pass for Christmas. They will think I'm crazy, especially my dad, but I feel great about the idea. (They'll get something else as well since I know they won't be excited about the TPs.)

That is my plan too. :D Except, I may have evangalized enough already for them to already have Terra Passes. My SIL is a small-business owner and she hopes to include TerraPasses in the business budget for their plane travel for the upcoming year. It's catching on! :)

Annette
08-16-2006, 05:04 PM
Has anyone read this article about Ethanol?
http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2006/08/21/8383659/index.htm


The growing myth that corn is a cure-all for our energy woes is leading us toward a potentially dangerous global fight for food. While crop-based ethanol -the latest craze in alternative energy - promises a guilt-free way to keep our gas tanks full, the reality is that overuse of our agricultural resources could have consequences even more drastic than, say, being deprived of our SUVs. It could leave much of the world hungry.

Would the price of corn based food items go up because we'd be using more corn for ethanol?

Unfortunately, my car doesn't take ethanol and I don't think there are any ethanol gas stations here yet.

ysolde
08-16-2006, 05:22 PM
I think we are headed in the wrong direction here. The fact that we are using a Third World model (Brazil) is quite telling. We need to become less dependent on our cars as our main mode of transportation -- move back into the cities, or use trains to get from the suburbs into the city, rather than cars. We need to give up our dependence on our cars, and start relying on public transportation (and start demanding that our government provide better public transportation), rather than continue our insistence on the Third World model of cars for everyone but the poor, who must rely on dicey public transportation.

bookworm
08-16-2006, 05:54 PM
Ysolde, that's an interesting point. My first reaction when I saw the list of "cars" that are flex fuel capable was that it seemed a little like "Atkins ice cream"--fairly drastic steps around what is pretty much a behavioral problem. But then I figured it's better than nothing :). (Though, as you point out, the danger is that we don't invest in more long term solutions.)

PurpleRose
08-17-2006, 12:28 PM
My big concern with Ethanol is that much of the corn being grown for Ethanol fuel is genetically modified. I am concerned that this will contaminate nearby fields (which it has been known to do), contaminating any "clean" fields and causing issues for the farmers. (IIRC, Monsanto has charged farmers for GMO crops found on their land, when in reality the farmer's land was contaminated by the Monsanto crops.)

I think Ethanol is a step in the right direction, but I don't see it as the answer to America's fuel dilemna. I think that a better plan would be for Americans to lessen their dependence on cars and SUVs, as Ysolde suggested, and continue to develop more alternative energy sources/technologies.

brenda
08-17-2006, 01:35 PM
I can certainly get behind the idea of reducing our consumption of petroleum products, but I will never move to a city. Some of us need horizon to breathe.

Delta
08-17-2006, 01:50 PM
I think we are headed in the wrong direction here. The fact that we are using a Third World model (Brazil) is quite telling. We need to become less dependent on our cars as our main mode of transportation -- move back into the cities, or use trains to get from the suburbs into the city, rather than cars. We need to give up our dependence on our cars, and start relying on public transportation (and start demanding that our government provide better public transportation), rather than continue our insistence on the Third World model of cars for everyone but the poor, who must rely on dicey public transportation.While I don't completely disagree with this in theory, it's really completely unrealistic. It may be easy for people in urban environments to imagine, and to believe and say that the rest of America should go along with it, but it's never going to happen.

And I don't think Brazil is a true 'model' (although who cares if it is?) Brazil's fuel consumption is something like 5% of the US and their ability to grow sugarcane make them uniquely positioned to become self-sufficient.

Here in the US, we'll have to think in terms of a combination of things - alternative fuels (not just ethanol, but propane and biodesiel as well), hybrids, better gas mileage, drilling in ANWR and other places - to become more self-sufficient. I think we can cut our dependency on foreign oil, maybe even a great deal in 20-30 years, but we will never be completely self-sufficient.

paulinaaa
08-18-2006, 10:12 AM
According to the website... (http://www.e85fuel.com/e85101/faqs/range.php)


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 10-15% drop in fuel economy. This will vary based on the way one drives, the air pressure in the tires, and additional 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.
It's all academic as far as I'm concerned since I don't own a vehicle on the list. However, if I did, E85 would have to be considerably cheaper than gasoline to get me to the pump. I'm all for alternative fuels, but if I have to pay just as much (or worse...considerably more) for E85 and suffer the 10-15% loss in fuel economy, then I don't see much point in using the stuff.

lil_geek
08-18-2006, 10:28 AM
Has anyone read this article about Ethanol?
http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2006/08/21/8383659/index.htm



Would the price of corn based food items go up because we'd be using more corn for ethanol?

Unfortunately, my car doesn't take ethanol and I don't think there are any ethanol gas stations here yet.

I'm not sure what the corn prices are in the US... in canada Corn is selling SO CHEAPLY that you can't make a profit off of growing it.

Like Happy - we are part of the Canadian Farming community and are looking forward to the LARGE Ethanol plant that is going in littlerally a few miles from our place. We are hoping the demand for the corn will at least offset the cost to grow it. And, we should/will be able to buy back the 'byproduct' as it's pretty much the best livestock feed!

Not sure what E85 costs in Canada... but we are paying over $4/gallos for 'cheap' gas... and the sites I looked at in the states have E85 at just under $3/gallon.... worth it to us!

SiValleySteph
08-18-2006, 10:39 AM
I'm for electric cars (or plug-in hybrid, possibly running off ethanol) and sun/wind power where possible and nuclear power as the backup. Anyone with me? :p

kdotp
08-18-2006, 11:01 AM
ETA: Don't get the farmers started on this one. They could talk literally for hours on end about this. And as for some of the articles out there that are written by professors sitting at a desk who never viewed the process-whooo boy. Talk about hot tempers! :p
Or farmer's daughters. ;) DH and I don't farm, but both our families do, so this is a subject very close to us.

To answer the questions:
Would you consider using E85 fuel if it was cheaper per gallon than regular gas? Most definitely! DH and I are already considering trading in our diesel Jeep for a flex-fuel Tahoe in two years or so, when we have our next child.

If it was about the same per gallon as regular gas? (Though, keep in mind it's less efficient.) Yes. DH always buys the ethanol blend (not the E85, though I think there is a pump not too far away from us). It used to be the Ethanol was cheaper than regular unleaded, but now they're abou the same.

Even if it were more per gallon than regular gas?Still yes. I drive a Jeep Libery CRD (Common Rail Diesel) and diesel fuel is significantly more expensive than unleaded right now. (like even $.50 in some places). But we get 24 mpg in the city and up to 27 mpg on the highway, which isn't much less than the Grand Prix I had previously.

And why? Like Nikki, our families are farmers and we will do anything we can to support them. The argument that farmers use more fossil fuels to grow corn than is offset by the ethanol that corn produces is not necessarily true. I can only speak for my family, but I know my dad and his brothers use as much E85 and soy biodiesel for their machinery as they can. They practice low-till and no-till farming, so they're not out in the fields as much as with other farming practices, which decreases fuel consumption. They also use as little pesticides and chemicals as possible.

I also don't think that farmers are going to up and plant all their fields to corn for ethanol because of simple economics. Flood the market with product and the price is going to decrease. If the cost per bushel is too low to offset the cost of raising the crop, the farmer won't see a need to plant it and will go with another crop instead (soybeans, more likely, to be used in biodiesel!) that will make money. As Nikki and MidwesternGal commented, farming is not an easy way to make money. Anything I can do to help my family, I will.

I don't think that eventually E85 will become the source of fuel for ALL vehicles on the road, but I think it's at least a good option at this time until we can figure out something better.

PurpleRose
08-18-2006, 05:15 PM
I'm for electric cars (or plug-in hybrid, possibly running off ethanol) and sun/wind power where possible and nuclear power as the backup. Anyone with me? :p

Sure! I always did want an electric car.

MLA
08-18-2006, 07:16 PM
This thread reminded me that there's a new documentary out called "Who Killed the Electric Car?" (http://www.sonyclassics.com/whokilledtheelectriccar/)It looks really good.

ysolde
08-19-2006, 03:29 PM
I'm for electric cars (or plug-in hybrid, possibly running off ethanol) and sun/wind power where possible and nuclear power as the backup. Anyone with me? :p

Raising hand. I am!!!!! And let's try insulating our homes (we rarely turn on the heat or the air conditioning in our apartment). Hey, it might help!