The Energy Policy Act of 1992 defines the fuel mixture of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, known as E85, as an alternative fuel. E85 is used to fuel flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs).
E85 cannot be used in a conventional, gasoline-only engine. Vehicles must be specially designed to run on it. Vehicles currently available to U.S. drivers should be clearly marked as Flex-fuel compatible, because they can run on E85, gasoline, or any blend of the two (up to the maximum 85% ethanol). E85 is available at about 700 stations throughout the United States, and dispensed from specially-marked fueling pumps.
One of the main drivers for not making available a 100% pure ethanol product, known as E100, is a pure ethanol fuel does not preform well in colder temperatures. The addition of the 15% gasoline with the ethanol enables the Flex-Fuel engine to operate normally under cold conditions.
The United States is currently the largest producer of ethanol, the main ingredient of E85 fuel. Ethanol in the United States is produced from the corn grown by American farmers. One of the main benefits of E85, if it becomes widely excepted, will be to reduce the need for imported oil.
E85 also provides important reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Although many of the affects of using E85 have yet to be determined, one negative affect known is that E85 does in fact introduce a increased amount of acetaldehyde, a toxic pollutant, into the atmosphere; however, E85 has shown to significantly reduce the emissions of many other toxins, including the known carcinogen benzene. When made from corn, E85 reduces life-cycle GHG emissions (which includes the energy required to grow and process corn into ethanol) by 15-20% as compared to gasoline. E85 made from cellulose can reduce emissions by around 70 percent as compared to gasoline. Also known, E85 is less volatile than pure gasoline, or even that of lessor ethanol blends, which means fewer emissions caused by evaporation making it safer to deliver the fuel to the customer's vehicle.
A drawback of E85 is lower gas mileage. Because it delivers about 27% less energy per gallon than pure gasoline, motorists will not be able to drive as far on that of a single tank of pure gasoline; however, E85 is typically priced lower than gasoline, so that cost per mile is comparable. With the price of crude oil continuing its move north of $100/barrel, E85 should become a highly sought after fuel for today's motor vehicles.
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