If you are environmentally aware, you might be considering switching to E85 fuel if and when it becomes available in your area. The following covers the basics of E85 fuel and the compatible Flexible Fuel Vehicle, or FFV. Also explored is the option of converting a typical gasoline powered car to one that runs on E85 fuel.
What is E85 Fuel?
E85 fuel is a blend of up to 85 percent alcohol-based ethanol and 15 percent regular gasoline. The blend is adjusted according to the season and the marketing area. During the winter, and in areas where it's cold nearly year-round, the percentage of gasoline is increased. It has advantages and disadvantages.
- E85 may be domestically produced, usually out of corn or other plant-based products. This reduces the importation of foreign oil. Canada is oil-rich, but in a global economy the importation of oil into the country is a possibility.
- This fuel is environmentally friendly, producing fewer emissions to pollute the atmosphere.
- The ethanol based fuel, when used in a Flexible Fuel Vehicle, or FFV, creates a smoother running engine.
- E85 has a lower energy content, which produces poorer gas mileage.
- The fuel can only be used in an FFV.
- E85 fuel stations are not as common in Canada as they are in the United States.
What is a Flexible Fuel Vehicle?
Most modern cars are already designed to handle gasoline blends with up to 10 percent ethanol. A Flexible Fuel Vehicle has minor design modifications that allow it to use the higher ethanol mixtures of E85 fuel while still being able to handle regular gasoline. The FFV has a fuel identifier system which adjusts the engine to the blend of fuel being used. Some of the other modifications include:
- The engine compression ratio must be increased. This governs the volume in an engine cylinder when comparing the down stroke of the piston with the upstroke.
- The amount of fuel injected into those cylinders is increased to fill the larger voids in the cylinders. This makes the cylinders hotter, so spark plugs that can handle higher temperatures are needed.
- A cold-start system is included. It injects additional gasoline from a small auxiliary tank near the engine to provide the energy needed for starts in colder temperatures.
- Ethanol is naturally corrosive and it also tends to dilute necessary lubricants, like engine oil. All the components in the engine and fuel system must use parts that are compatible with alcohol-based fuels. Ethanol sometimes corrodes aluminum but usually has no effect on the motor.
Converting Older Cars
It is possible for your older car to be converted for use with E85 fuels. Not only must the already mentioned modifications be made, the fuel system needs updated and the vehicle must have the timing adjusted. You can take your car in to an auto shop for these auto tune ups.
In order to increase the amount of fuel reaching the engine by roughly 30 percent, bigger fuel lines and fuel injectors are needed. Some cars built after 2000 may not need this upgrade.
Adjusting the Timing
E85 has a higher octane rating but at the same time suppresses engine detonation, or "knocking." In regular gasoline cars, knocking is reduced by slowing the timing, but this can cause an engine to lose power. The timing on an ethanol powered car can be set higher, which eliminates this power loss.
E85 Fuel Availability in Canada
E85 fuel is available in Canada, but in limited markets. The biggest producer and seller of this fuel is based in Ontario. They have several stations throughout the province selling their trademark Krypton 91 E85 fuel as well as other ethanol blends.
Oil-rich Alberta has yet to take the plunge, as has much of the western part of the country. As of 2015, only one E85 fuel station exists in British Columbia.