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The Alternative Fuel: E85 - Is It Really Brand New?

Updated on February 18, 2013

E85: The Alternative Fuel

The Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPact) considers E85 an alternative fuel. It is used to fuel flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs). Fueling stations offering E85 are more common in the corn belt (Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota), but are spreading to other states including here in New York, according to the U. S. Department of Energy online website.

But is it really a whole new idea or have farmers known about this fuel for decades. I caught up with a couple of mystery people who talked about the old stills that made grain alcohol and those moonshiners, as they were called. Their interview went as follows:

Exactly what is this E85 fuel?

E85 is a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Thus the 85. 

Can it be used by any car?

The E85 fuel is for vehicles - the FFVs - that are specifically designed to run on E85 (but can also run on regular gasoline) and there are about 8 million such vehicles on the road today. Many of the 2010 models of U.S. vehicles are FFVs, but according to the Department of Energy, many folks don't know they have such a car. This includes the Cadillac Escalade, Buick Lucerne, Chevy Impala, Dodge Caravan, and many more, even model years before 2010. You can do a vehicle search at:

How is ethanol made?

Ethanol is mainly produced from corn crops using a dry-mill or wet mill process with dry mill accounting for more than 80% of the industry capacity, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Then...

But is this a brand new idea? I mean nothing is really new about fuel. We're just been steered towards fossil fuels.

Anyway...the ground corn flour is mixed with water, enzymes and yeast and fermented into a 'mash.'

Wait a minute? Mash sounds like what was made in the old days with giant stills, hidden way back up in the woods, and the revenue man would come, and you'd be jailed for making it. Those folks were often called moonshiners because they had to work by moonlight...

Yes, in this case, however, the 'mash' goes through a distillation process to produce a 200-proof ethanol and it is then denatured with gasoline. This way it is not fit for human consumption.

Ah, but it sounds to me like old time farmers used to make not only drinking alcohol but fuel for their tractors.

Hmmm, I come from a long line of farmers from way back and I don't recall gas stations being anywhere near the farm so perhaps they did make their own fuel. Yes, using corn for fuel is certainly not a new idea.

Why not just use 100% ethanol?

It seems a pure fuel made of of 100% ethanol has problems operating efficiently in cold weather. So it would be a problem for cars.

Most farmers did not operate tractors during cold weather anyway. So I suppose 100% ethanol was just fine.

Hmmm again. I suppose you are right.

Are there environmental benefits?

This source of energy is largely renewable, reduces dependency on imported oil, helps the U. S. agricultural sector, creates jobs in the U.S. - and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Why haven't I seen this fuel and where can I buy it?

E85 is now being offered in more than 40 states and there are more than 1,950 fueling stations. To check an E85 locator, for a station, you can view the following link:

So, we are just doing what folks were stopped from doing in the early part of the last century?

Seems that way. Would you you like to read about cars made from flax? This process is another old idea that is brand new again. If so please see the link below:

But corn isn't new!
But corn isn't new!


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    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Great, I'm already your fan travel_man1971 so I look forward to your writing this hub about ethanol and giving us another side of the fuel issue - and I can share it.

      Thanks for the rating too! Yay!

    • travel_man1971 profile image

      Ireno Alcala 7 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      We call an alternative fuel here in the Philippines, the ethanol fuel. It's not a new idea, but the oil-producing countries are threathened by it, so, politicking clouded the mass production of it in our country (it lacks backing and funding). Only minimal corn farmers brave to produce it and sell at an affordable price. Well, Bk, you gave me an idea to make a hub out of it, too. Thanks. Rated it up, too.

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thanks so much for commenting Deborrah K. Ogans. It will be interesting to see what happens next with this technology.

    • DeBorrah K. Ogans profile image

      DeBorrah K Ogans 7 years ago

      BK Creative, Wonderful informative hub! As always you have well present some very interesting data... What a fascinating concept of corn as an alternative fuel? Thank you for sharing, Peace & Blessings!

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Sooooo true Pollyannalana - oil - it will be here forever until we stop buying it - and that doesn't seem to be happening. The proof is that this is not a new concept. Cigarettes are still here too and as toxic as ever. I read that American made cigarettes are the most toxic on earth.

      Thanks for commenting - I agree with you!

    • Pollyannalana profile image

      Pollyannalana 7 years ago from US

      Well it may just be my gift of suspicion I suppose but we will never get away from oil. Like our government acting so against smoking, well why don't they take it off the market. Those big taxes is why, acting like it is for kids, make it harder for them to afford...give me a break.

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Something less polluting would be a benefit habee - the air in NYC is just so bad. A report last night said 1 out of 10 children in NYC has asthma - too much pollution!

      I didn't know about Willie Nelson supporting this Micky Dee. I'll look into it.

      Thanks for writing!

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 7 years ago

      Very Well done BK! I guess this is Willie Nelson's fuel too. He's been supporting this too. Thanks!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Sounds promising, but would it make corn the next oil?

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      So true Sally's Trove - the objective should be less car use and not more fuel which means more cars on the road. I live in NYC and the car traffic is overwhelming - whew! We need to return to community working, living, farming etc. - instead of having to travel great distances for a job, or basics.

      Thanks for commenting!

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      This is a great presentation of a complex subject, Bk.

      We can add to the complexity (elaborating on dahoglund's comment) that the machines used to plant, grow, harvest, and process corn for E85 for the most part rely on fossil fuels. Until a change is made there, wide-spread E85 use will just transfer fossil fuel use back into the machines and processes needed for E85 production.

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Hello HealthyHanna, I'm sure there are so many natural options that we are not hearing about - like sugar and cooking oils, etc.

      Thanks for writing!

    • HealthyHanna profile image

      HealthyHanna 7 years ago from Utah

      I read an article on the problem this fuel might have on food prices, espically in So. America. It was a different take than I have heard before. With so much of the farmland in US put to sleep, I always though corn fuel was a good idea until I read this article.

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Good MPG Narratives - I'm a fan so I'll know the minute it happens. I like that MPG in your name, by the way. Clever!

    • MPG Narratives profile image

      Marie Giunta 7 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Hey BK, thanks for the idea. I'll have to research it and write something soon.

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thanks so much MPG Narratives - sounds like Australia is so far ahead of us. The fuel is here but it is so hard to find a local station here in the US and the fuel is really not promoted.

      I hope you you'll write a hub about the car and what you think of it usefulness.

      Thanks for sharing that information!

    • MPG Narratives profile image

      Marie Giunta 7 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      It was just announced on the news yesterday that Holden has developed a car to run on this new fuel and will be available in Australia by end 2010. It can only be a good thing to at least start eating away at some of the big oil company profits. If we do nothing our environment is doomed. Great article BK, rated up.

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Good point cameciob. It's so slow coming because there is little control and little wealth for the few. Imagine if farmers once again began to create stills - there would be no reason at all to go to the gas station. Right now, I'm not happy about the corn because in the US it is overwhelmingly genetically modified - and more and more GM corn will be grown all over - this is not a good thing.

      Cutting down on car dependency is the first step. Thanks for your input.

    • cameciob profile image

      cameciob 7 years ago

      BkCreative, this is a big subject. I have heard of this kind of fuel before but I never knew so many details. Reading the article and through the comments it is clear to me now that until someone will find a way to get big money out of corn or other plant fuel there isn't going to be a true replacement for the old polluting gas.

      I liked the interview. Very detailed and on subject, Thanks for the info. Rated and voted up.

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      So true Veronica Allen. I've heard it too. I suppose the only thing new is us. Thanks so much for the up rating. Yay!

    • Veronica Allen profile image

      Veronica Allen 7 years ago from Georgia

      You know what BkCreative - my mother always told me, "there is nothing knew under the sun." Sometimes advancements in technology (though it signals progress and can bring about many benefits) pulls us away from some of the most simplest and safest solutions to our everyday problems.

      Rated it up of course!

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      I've forgotten all about gasahol, Paradise7. I will have to research it again. I don't know why that term was used but no more. Hmmm.

      Thanks for writing!

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

      A very interesting and informative hub, thank you. It's been a while since I've seen gasahol mentioned anywhere, and I had more or less assumed that it wasn't, for some reason, a practical solution.

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thank you Coolmon2009 - I wasn't sure about the number 85 before. There are supposed to be some more numbered fuels out there, soon.

      The time has certainly come ethel smith. We cannot pretend we are not being seriously affected by this.

      Thanks for the rating akirchner. I suspect nobody will listen until we start talking with our dollars - that's the only language quickly understood. Sigh.

      Thanks for the comments.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Central Oregon

      Excellent info - and would that we could move away from oil! Rated up for sure as this is such an important environmental issue - do you think anyone will ever listen?

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 7 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Well they are going to have to try something such as this sooner or later

    • Coolmon2009 profile image

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      Informative article learned a few things about this new ratio of ethanol to gas.

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      So true HappyHer - there used to be that old saying 'there is no new thing under the sun' - Thanks for the compliment too.

      Thanks Philipo, glad you found the hub informative.

    • Philipo profile image

      Philipo 7 years ago from Nigeria

      Very educative and informative hub.

    • HappyHer profile image

      HappyHer 7 years ago from Cleveland, OH

      Fascinating hub. I don't believe any "new" idea is NEW, I think it takes a long time for many things to be introduced to the general public though.

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      It would help theherbivorehippi - and supposedly more taxis are flexible fuel vehicles - but try and find such a filling station locally. We are choked from car pollution here in the City. Gasp.

      The subways of course should be shut down and we need to start from square one. That's how bad they are. I've started walking just about everywhere and I do mean miles and miles.

      Thanks for writing.

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      So true llmartin, I think we should be open to all sources - and above all, work, shop and do everything close to home. Being so dependent on cars makes no sense at all. But that was well designed by the car industry and oil lobby to make a fortune and so it was done and we suffer the polluted costs - financially, environmentally and health-wise. Asthma is epidemic in children in NYC.

      Yes, dahoglund - waste material should be used and let's cut down on car usage. I read an article about 25 years ago that said it was absolutely absurd to build a 2,000 pound machine to move a 150 pound person (well now, it's probably a 200 pound person) - in NYC we have what is probably the worst mass transit system in the world. How can we expect people to travel in such filth that is also unsafe, overcrowded and costly. If we were to take a look at the massive subway and bus system in Seoul, S. Korea serving 14 million people - we cannot compare in any way. It's a disgrace.

      And very important point FGual - we should never be subjected to such a man made disaster as that in the Gulf - and this happens too often on a smaller scale and we just never hear about it. Sugar cane along with other options makes so much more sense. For the Bush administration to give tax credits for people to go out and buy gas-guzzling SUVs was astounding. And people did it. Of course then you simply raise the gas prices and the oil barons reap more benefits. We have to start being responsible for everything we do to this environment.

      Thanks for all the comments.

    • theherbivorehippi profile image

      theherbivorehippi 7 years ago from Holly, MI

      This is very interesting! Especially since I just read the other day that the United States and China put together use up 50% of the Earth's fossil fuel, leaving less than half for the rest of the countries. I wonder if they can make those million taxis in NYC and subways run on this stuff?

    • FGual profile image

      FGual 7 years ago from USA

      Great hub. I hope the Gulf oil disaster is the beginning of the end for the Oil Barons. Living in the midwest in the eighties there was often talk about ethanol, then it went away only to return in recent years while Brazil was making it from sugarcane which is easier and cheaper than corn. If we go Brazilian it would help the southern farmers.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      A 10% mixture of ethanol has been used in places like Illinois where I used to work ever since the eighties of earlier. It is a part supporting agriculture. However, there are problems environmentally,it takes land to raise all the corn and it takes away from the food supply.More fertilizer which is petroleum based is used.

      If were made of waste materiel instead of food it would be an improvement.

    • lmmartin profile image

      lmmartin 7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      How very true and timely. However, the greatest source of ethanol is sugar -- one of the world's most common and cheapest commodities. I read a study which shows whenever the price of sugar falls low enough for it (fermented and distilled of course) to be a viable alternative to gasoline, the price of oil falls. Coincidence? I don't think so.

      Other countries -- Brazil for example -- already have all the cars fitted for ethanol use -- ALL! Why is North America so far behind? Ask the oil lobby.

      Great hub! Lynda

    • TheListLady profile image

      TheListLady 7 years ago from New York City

      What a fun hub! How well I remember the talk about stills when I went to NC as a child. I was never allowed to see them but I knew they existed - they were always 'way, way back up in the woods somewhere." I've read that farmer's used this type of grain alcohol as well as peanut oil as a fuel.

      Sure, there is nothing new about this. What's old is new again.

      Rated up!

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      For sure Hello, hello. Just living here in New York, when it snows, a day later the snow looks like charcoal - thanks to the pollution from cars. This can't be a good way to live.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      A very interesting hub and a point which we should take to get away from the stranglehold of oil.