Flex Fuel: Will You Bite?
All the talk about gas-electric hybrid vehicles is overlooking another area where fuel economy can be realized. No, I am not talking about diesel engines and I am not even thinking about hydrogen power. Instead, corn powered vehicles are coming into their own. That’s right, ethanol, a fuel that has a history going back a full century, may be the fuel of the future. Is ethanol a good choice for a fuel source? I’ll let you be the judge of that! Back during the days that Henry Ford was building cars, he designed his Model “T” to run on ethanol, a fuel that is typically derived from corn. His idea was to give the driver a choice between gasoline and this particular alternative source of energy. Historically low gas prices however, made the need for ethanol pretty much a moot point at that time. Why fuel up with ethanol when gas was being sold for a quarter or less? For its part, the U.S. government has long held that ethanol is a good fuel source and has mandated that vehicles built since the early 1980s, have the capacity to run on E10 ethanol –a blend consisting of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline. Since the 1990s another type of ethanol, E85, has been receiving plenty of press coverage. This fuel is made up of 85% ethanol and just 15% gasoline. That’s right, a truly alternative fuel source derived from corn. With E85, only specially designated models can run on this type of fuel. No, they aren’t some odd looking vehicles like the Honda Insight, instead they are every day vehicles including the Dodge Durango, Mercedes C240, Chevy Silverado, and other select models specially outfitted to accept E85. These FFVs, or flexible fuel vehicles, are distinctive models that can run on E85 or on unleaded gasoline. They can also run on any blend of ethanol/gasoline from an 85% ethanol/gasoline mix on down. E85 does affect fuel mileage for the typical vehicle with fuel economy dropping as much as 10% depending on the model. At face value this can look like a bad thing until you consider the following:
1. E85 fuel prices are much lower than straight gasoline. Depending on the station, as much as one third lower. So, even with the reduced fuel economy many drivers are saving as much as 25% on their weekly fuel bills.
2. E85 burns clean. Remember, this is a chiefly corn based product. With only a minimal amount of gasoline used, E85 is better for the environment as it reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
3. E85 reduces our dependency on foreign oil. The biggest problem in America today when it comes to energy consumption is our overdependence on foreign oil. E85 is developed in the U.S. thanks to our abundant and extensive corn belt. By using E85, you help farmers in America’s heartland instead of oil rich sheiks in the Middle East. Currently, in some areas of the country E85 stations are few and far between. However, as the number of E85 models being built continues to grow and consumers accept E85 as an alternate fuel source, more stations will be built. E85 availability is high in the middle of the country so motorists have more choice in there. Regardless of pump availability, a FFV can run on straight gasoline when E85 is not available. So, will you take the “bite” and purchase an FFV? Perhaps a few years ago you wouldn’t have considered one, but with rapidly rising fuel prices, worries over global warming, and frustration over our dependency on foreign oil, an FFV is worthy of everyone’s consideration.
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