Frequently Asked Questions About E85

1.      What is E85?

E85 is a motor fuel blend of 85% ethanol and 15% unleaded gasoline manufactured for use in Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs).  It burns cleaner and has a higher octane rating than regular unleaded gasoline.  E85 is a renewable energy source produced in the United States. E85 is an alternative fuel as defined by the U.S. Department of Energy. 


2.      What is a Flexible Fuel Vehicle (FFV)?

FFVs are specifically designed to run on E85.  They can also run on regular unleaded gasoline or any combination of gasoline and ethanol up to 85%.  Flexible Fuel Vehicles look and drive just like regular gasoline-only vehicles, but have been built with special components that are compatible with E85.  FFVs have an engine control computer that recognizes the mixture of fuel so the ignition timing and fuel flow rate can be optimized for the fuel mixture being used.


3.     How can I tell if my vehicle is a Flex Fuel Vehicle?

FFVs usually have a sticker inside the fuel door cover with the wording "Ethanol" or "E85."  Some vehicles have an emblem on the vehicle fender that identifies them as FFVs.  Also, the 8th character of vehicle VIN (vehicle identification number) is a special character.  The vehicle owner's manual will indicate that the vehicle is E85-compatible as well.


See examples of fuel door cover wording, vehicle emblems and VIN characters indicating FFV.


4.      What is Ethanol?

Ethanol is a high octane, domestically produced and renewable fuel that is made from corn or other grains.  It burns cleaner than gasoline, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Ethanol is biodegradable and does not contaminate water supplies. 


Ethanol is used as a gasoline additive to replace MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether) as an oxygenate that helps fuel to burn more completely and more cleanly.  MTBE, unlike ethanol, has been found to pollute groundwater supplies and has been banned from use in 25 states. Ethanol is just as effective at increasing octane and making a cleaner burning fuel, but it is not harmful to the environment.


All vehicles manufactured since the 1980s can use a blend of up to 10% ethanol.  Only FFVs can use E85 or a blend of 85% ethanol; however, if your vehicle is not a FFV, use of higher than a 10% ethanol blend is not covered under the vehicle warranty.


5.     How is ethanol produced?

Ethanol is produced by fermenting the starch in corn or other grain crops.  The fermented starch is distilled into alcohol and excess water is removed, resulting in very pure ethyl alcohol that can be mixed with gasoline.


One bushel of corn yields 2.8 gallons of ethanol.  The starch portion of corn is about 70%.  The remaining 30% left over after starch is extracted is used as highly nutritious animal feed.  In 2005, about 14% (1.6 billion bushels) of the nation's corn crop was used for ethanol production.


6.      How much does E85 cost?

E85 is generally priced to be competitive with regular 87 octane unleaded gasoline.  Tax credits received by fuel blenders may make the cost of E85 significantly lower than regular unleaded.


7.      Where can E85 be purchased?

Find Michigan fueling stations that offer E85, or visit the U.S. Department of Energy, Alternative Fuels Data Center's Alternative Fuel Station Locator or the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition's E85 Refueling Location Search. 


8.     If gasoline contains ethanol, is it always labeled at the pump?

E85 is always labeled at the pump because it is an alternative fuel for use only in flexible fuel vehicles.  Other blends of ethanol and gasoline may not be labeled.  In Michigan, labeling of ethanol blends is not required by law.   The trend is that most gasoline fuels will contain 10% ethanol due to government incentives and the elimination of MTBE as a fuel additive.


9.      How does use of E85 affect fuel economy?

Fuel economy is lower when E85 fuel is used because ethanol has lower energy content than gasoline.  Since E85 is generally lower in price than regular unleaded, cost per mile may be similar.


10.   Does use of E85 harm the vehicle engine?

Use of E85 actually keeps the fuel system clean and acts as a gas line antifreeze.  Since the major differences in a flex fuel vehicle are the materials used in the fuel system, 85% ethanol fuel does not harm these engines.  E85 can only be used in vehicles designed for its use.



Some materials excerpted from ACE (American Coalition for Ethanol) and the Minnesota Department of Commerce.