Automobiles, Resources

Potentially I Could Be An Accidental Environmentalist

I’ll be honest, while I try to be eco-friendly, I don’t go out of my way to be “green”. So, you can imagine my surprise when I looked down at the gas-cap from my 2000 Chrysler Town and Country and realized that my mini-van can run on E85. What’s E85? It’s a “flex-fuel”. A flex-fuel is a combination of ethanol and gasoline. I must confess, I’ve never seen a station that offered “flex-fuel”. So, I turned on the old Google-machine and started looking for information about E85.

Click here to search for stations that sell alternative fuels, including E85.

Click here to search for vehicles that can run on alternative fuels, including E85.

I found a few stations in Macon and Perry, so the next time I’m in either of those two cities, I might give the old “flex fuel” a try. Have any of you ever used an alternative fuel? My van is more than seven years old. Do you think the engine will ‘freak out’ if I put a brand new fuel-type in it?

8 thoughts on “Potentially I Could Be An Accidental Environmentalist

  1. There’s nothing “green” about ethanol. It quite possibly takes more energy to produce ethanol from corn than we get out of it. And then there are the externalities of putting that much cropland into corn (fertilizer, pesticides). Even if it’s produced from something like sugar cane, I see no way it can replace a significant portion of the approximately 390 million gallons of gasoline we use each day in the US. Don’t fall for the “Live green, Go yellow” advertising.

  2. From what I heard from my nerd brothers, E85 burns at a higher temp than regular gas, so to use E85, the engine has to be build to withstand the higher temps. If your van was listed as being able to take it, then you should have no roblems.

  3. Oh yes, ethanol is one of the “big” myths. We are taking cropland out of production for food and creating fuel.
    Tracters to plant corn
    Tractors or airplanes to spray pestasides
    Combines to bring the corn in
    Trucks to carry the corn to the plant
    Processing at the plant

    And on top of all that, when you burn it, it doesn’t go as far as “regular” fuel. You be the judge but it seems like we are hurting the ecology more than helping with ethanol…

  4. Wow.. I had no idea there was such a debate about ethanol…

    (Perry and Macon are cities in Georgia…)

  5. All debates aside, I figured I’d throw in a few thoughts and facts about E85.

    First, E85 is much more corrosive than traditional gasoline. So much so, that it can’t actually be shipped via the existing pipelines used by unleaded gasoline, instead it must be shipped directly from the refinery to destination via tanker truck.

    Another result of the corrosiveness is that the fuel lines and spark plugs in your car need to be replaced with a different variety. Aside from that, very little needs to change on your car to run E85. I believe I’ve read in the past that the cost of conversion is only ~ $25 in parts.

    The other major issue with E85 is that it only has ~ 75% of the energy density of traditional unleaded. So, in essence, if you’re getting 20MPG with your unleaded, you can expect to get only ~ 15MPG. From a pure cost standpoint, you would need to see a comparable reduction in cost to make it worth your while (e.g. $2.25 / gallon if 87 octane is $3.00). E85 is a higher octane than normal unleaded (I believe I’ve read ~ 105), so it is used in many performance cars.

    Finally, all debates aside, I’m a firm believer in supporting the technology. Yes, in its current incarnation of corn-based ethanol, it’s at best a slight energy gain. But if we support the development of the infrastructure, eventually better sources and techniques will come around that are much more efficient (e.g. switchgrass, algae, etc).

    The pollutants factor is debatable certainly, but from my understanding, burning ethanol releases the carbon that the plant captured in the first place during photosynthesis, making it essentially a “wash” on the carbon scale. But, I still have to think this is better than burning and releasing supplies of carbon buried in the ground and out of the atmosphere in the first place as we do with traditional fossil fuels (I am not a scientist, so I may have some facts wrong here).

    Anyway, to end a long post, just a tip for anyone with a 2006 Impala–they are also Flex Fuel capable, but your check engine light will come on unless you take your car to the dealership for a computer upgrade.

  6. Greg has it pretty much right. The production of Ethanol is about the same as fossil fuels as far as pollutants. However, if the technology has merit (i.e. can make money for companies), we’ll see it develop and surpass the efficiency and pollution it produces now. The main benefit (other than reducing our dependence on unstable middle eastern nations), especially for those living in metro areas, is that it burns more cleanly (it does still contain a percentage of gasoline, so that’s pretty much the only part that pollutes. Combining production, transport, and usage, E85 produces 35% less greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline. It is also slightly better for the engine. It could potentially increase jobs and income for farmers who would otherwise have to not grow or destroy their crops. Cost-wise it isn’t the best thing (your fuel efficiency will noticeable decrease), but I agree that it’s a good technology that is a good stop-gap measure until we find the next killer mobile power source (not fuel cells).

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