Gas prices are cheaper than this time last year, but drivers of
vehicles that take E85 are paying a lot less. Still, not everyone
is on board.
E85 is a blend of 85-percent ethanol and 15-percent gasoline,
but only certain vehicles are intended for E85 use. An article on
Cars.com touts the fact that the blend means 85 percent less
imported petroleum, but it also points out that E85 gets fewer
miles per gallon than regular gas. That said, E85 drivers may be
paying less than their regular gasoline counterparts, but more
frequent stops may erase the savings.
OneNewsNow spoke with Tom Buis, CEO of Growth
Energy, about the miles-per-gallon concerns:
OneNewsNow: Is that
Buis: For E85?
Buis: "Yes, it is - in
today's engines. Now, there are some engines out there that are
being manufactured where that's not as big a factor; and as the
auto manufacturers have to meet even higher fuel-mileage standards
in the future, you'll see a reverse of that. You'll see smaller
displacement engines, higher compression ratios and turbo-charging
and or direct-injection fuel systems. With that, you need higher
octane. Ethanol's value is octane."
Buis adds that drivers do not have the same problem with the
smaller ethanol blends of today.
Sterling Burnett, senior fellow for the nonprofit nonpartisan National Center for
Policy Analysis, disagrees.
"You're not reaping savings. In fact, even with just E10, you're
losing about a quarter of your fuel economy," he argues. "So if you
go to E85, you're losing even more. But also, you've got to
remember E85 is cheaper in part because the blenders get a
51-cents-per-gallon tax credit. Well, take away that 51 cents and
all of a sudden, it's no longer cheaper than gasoline." (See
editor's note below)
Mileage and cost-savings aside, the issue of E85 availability is
evident, with some regions having more stations than others.
Is E85 harmful to engines?
Burnett says research done by his organization has found that
increasing ethanol from E10 to E15, for example, is more likely to
result in many more breakdowns on the road because ethanol causes
more wear and tear on engines.
"If you have an older car with rubber seals and things - well,
you've already experienced problems because ethanol separates," he
explains. "Modern gas stations have tanks that don't allow the
ethanol to separate from gasoline. But if you buy it from the same
shop you've been buying from for 20 years, and they don't have the
newest equipment, then ethanol can separate in their tanks - which
means you get more water in your tank."
Buis, however, says no problems have been found by the
Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency in
switching from E10 to E15.
"E10 is in almost all the gasoline that consumers buy. Every
auto manufacturer provides a warranty for it," he counters. "Every
small engine and marine engine builder offers warranties covering
ethanol at 10 percent. E15 is only for autos and light-duty trucks
2001 and newer and flex-fuel vehicles."
Buis adds that the separation issue mentioned by Burnett is
"much ado about nothing," as the testing fuels on most every car
built since the mid-1990s have been more corrosive than ethanol,
and an anti-corrosive detergent is added to ethanol before it is
Editor's note (May 21, 2013): According to Jim Leiting with
Big River Resources, all tax credits for ethanol blenders expired
January 1, 2012. "There is no blender tax credit, so it does not
lower the price of ethanol blends of any amount, including E85," he
Toyota has topped BMW for the world's top auto brand, while not
a single American brand made the top five.