In its pure form (100%), ethanol can be ingested by humans. When gasoline is added for the creation of ethanol fuel, such as E85, it becomes more harmful. However, because ethanol dissolves in water, should a spill of E85 occur, the damaging results would be much less than in a gasoline or oil spill. Ethanol is completely biodegradable and does not contain carcinogens found in gasoline. E85 is much less of a contaminant that gasoline.
Who Can Use E85?
Vehicles must be developed or adapted to use E85. Most vehicles (those manufactured from 1980 onward) can use ethanol fuel blends containing 10 percent or less of ethanol. However, because of the high ethanol content of E85, the fuel systems of vehicles must be specifically made or changed to use E85.
Currently, some manufacturers make vehicles for E85 use. These include Chrysler, Ford, General Motors (GM), Isuzu, Mazda, Mercedes, Mercury, and Nissan. If you are unsure about your vehicle, contact your dealer to find out if your car can use E85. If you are shopping for a new vehicle, you may want to look for one that is E85 compatible.
The availability of E85 is another important point to keep in mind when shopping for a new vehicle or looking into adapting a current one for E85 use. Brazil and Sweden have been using E85 for some time now, while in the United States, use of E85 is increasing.
Still, E85 or even E10 (fuel with 10 percent ethanol) may not be available in your area. Metropolitan areas are more likely to offer E10. Areas that produce E85, such as the Midwest in the United States, are more likely to offer E85.
Flexible Fuel Vehicles
Flexible Fuel Vehicles, or FFVs, are vehicles made to use more than one type of fuel. Most FFVs can use ethanol blends up to 85 percent, so most can use E85. This does not necessarily mean that those using E85 will see a better gas mileage rate, however, because E85 does not provide as much power as traditional gasoline. When drivers combine good driving habits with E85, mileage can be improved.
Nevertheless, the environmental and other benefits of E85 may outweigh the potential downfalls of E85. In addition, until E85 is more widely used, the cost of the fuel will remain higher, although it has typically been less than gasoline.
The United States Department of Energy provides information on the availability of E85 by state.