E85 is one of the most popular natural gas alternatives in Brazil and in the United States, particularly in areas where corn is the major crop produce. The term E85 is generally used for motor gas blends of 15 percent gasoline and 85 percent ethanol. This natural fuel alternative is a high-octane and very flexible gas that blends easily with water and other organic liquids.
Brazil is the leading ethanol exporter in the world, with a supply of over 5 billion gallons of ethanol per year. Almost half of the total number of automobiles in the country make use of pure ethanol as vehicle fuel. The production and utilization of ethanol as natural fuel in Brazil begun in early 1970s when the National Fuel Alcohol Program was issued by the government. Since then, Brazil became the largest natural fuel supplier in the international transportation sector.
Meanwhile, the United States' Department of Energy highly recommends E85 fuel as an alternative natural gas because it has a superior quality performance, it burns cleaner than gasoline, and it is completely renewable. The utilization of E85 gas as an alternative fuel source is an excellent solution to the alarming dependence of the country in imported oil products.
Aside from its significant contribution to the country's economy, E85 natural fuel also helps reduce environmental pollution. Studies and tests show that E85-compatible motor vehicles lessen harmful benzene and hydrocarbon emissions compared to other automobiles that work on natural gasoline. It is also proven in studies that E85 gas can reduce carbon dioxide in the air, thus, lessening the amount of harmful greenhouse gas in the environment.
E85 natural fuel alternative is generally used in motor vehicles that are compatible with high concentration of ethanol solution. These E85-compatible vehicles are specifically designed to work on any type of gasoline with 85 percent volume of ethanol. Among the most common differences of E85-compatible vehicles from non-FFVs is that flexible gas engines do not hold bare aluminum, rubber, and magnesium parts in the fuel system. It is also common in such vehicles to find wider scope of pulse width in the control systems.
According to history, the Model T vehicle of Henry Ford was the first flexible-fuel automobile that was widely used in the United States. These vehicles were also capable on running with E85 fuel or gasoline. The Model A Ford vehicle was likewise an early E85-compatible vehicle. Model A, however, was more flexible in accommodating different blends of gasoline and ethanol fuel.
Today, modern E85-compatible vehicles have definitely improved when compared with Ford's Model A and Model T automobiles. Flexible-fuel vehicles in the country are mostly light truck auto class and sports-utility vehicles. With the usage convenience brought by natural fuel alternatives, more automobile manufacturers are now developing their own set of flexible-fuel vehicles to address the increasing demand for E85 gas.
An environment-friendly natural fuel like E85 gas delivers reliable and superb performance for flexible-fuel vehicles. Unlike petroleum and gasoline, E85 alternative fuel contains more oxygen, thus, keeping intake valves and fuel injectors cleaner. Ethanol-enhanced gas can lessen vehicle pre-ignition problems like pinging and knocking. E85 fuel can also tolerate greater degree of water contamination than gasoline or petroleum. During cold weather, ethanol-enriched fuel can absorb moisture as well as prevents gas freeze-up. With these advantages, more flexible-fuel vehicles are now being manufactured to be able to meet the increasing demand of motorists for E85 gas.
Despite the popularity of E85 gas, there are still risks in using this type of natural fuel. E85 fuel can damage engine parts of flexible-fuel vehicles since too much exposure to strong ethanol solution can deteriorate rubber and metal auto parts. Aside from engine corrosion, E85 fuel can also wear engines of non-FFV because these vehicles are not compatible with high level concentration of ethanol.
Meanwhile, the most common disadvantage of using E85 alternative fuel is that it can only be used in E85-compatible vehicles. Natural fuel also has low energy content, thus, resulting in fewer miles per gallon. The availability of E85 fuel is also one of the noted disadvantages of using this type of natural gas. The US, for instance, still has some states that do not have enough natural fuel supplier. Although the benefits and convenience of using E85 fuel are known to many people, this type of natural gas is still inaccessible to some motorists because of the unavailability of E85 gas establishments.
In 51 US states, 41 regions already have existing refueling stations established in different cities. Minnesota has the biggest number of E85 refueling pumps among other states with 300 gas stations. The remaining 10, which are Alaska, New Hampshire, Vermont , New Jersey, Louisiana, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, and Rhode Island, do not have fuel stations that can provide E85 natural gas to motorists. However, not all stations that supply E85 fuel are open for public use, Some of these gas suppliers are for private usage only, wherein natural gas is supplied exclusively for local government purposes.
Natural fuel alternatives like ethanol gas are also widely used in various Asian countries like Japan, China, and India. These countries already launched their own national energy policies on the reduction of fossil fuel consumption. In a few more years, numerous refueling stations will soon be supplying E85 fuel to thousands of motorists who make use of flexible-fuel vehicles.
The cost of E85 fuel varies from state to state. Natural fuel is generally cheaper than petroleum or gasoline in some areas and more costly in other regions. In 2005, E85 fuel was sold (per gallon) for up to 36 percent cheaper than the common petroleum or gasoline fuel. The discounted price of E85 is attributed to the various subsidies offered by the government. The current tax exemption issued by the US government keeps alternative fuels like ethanol very competitive with other petroleum and gas products. Although the exemption is due to expire next year, the government intends to renew the tax rule through legislative means.