Is This E85's Time To Shine?

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
is this e85s time to shine

The recent fall in fuel prices isn’t just an opportunity for Americans to demonstrate their collective inability to remember the events of even the recent past; it’s also a decisive hammerblow to E85 plants and retailers across the country.

This has to be the case, right?

Well, it’s certainly the tack that the media has been taking over the past month, with most media outlets reporting significant drops in E85 consumption as “natural gasoline” falls below the $2 mark in many markets. Certainly, gasoline is lower in terms of inflation-adjusted pricing than it’s been in decades. I filled up my Accord the other day from below the “E” mark for a price of $30.20, obtaining 421 mixed-use miles from the resulting fillup. Each mile is costing me about six cents in fuel, compared to the approximately twenty cents per mile I paid to operate my Town Car eighteen months ago.

As fate would have it, however, the very thing that causes opponents of E85 to decry its assistance is allowing it to deliver some fairly staggering pricing. The “consensus opinion” is that a gallon of petroleum energy creates between 1.24 and 1.6 gallons of corn-based E85. Other base crops like sugar cane and switchgrass can offer much higher yields, but fundamentally when we think “ethanol” in the United States we think about corn-based ethanol. When the cost of petroleum drops, therefore, it has a massive effect of the cost of ethanol production.

Long-time TTAC readers will remember that I ran my now-deceased Town Car on E85 for some time and observed lower fuel economy, some stumbling, and skanky behavior as a result. At the time, E85 was $2.29 and gasoline was $2.79, numbers that didn’t quite work for E85.

What about $1.19 vs. $1.89? That’s a much bigger (62% vs. 82%) gap, and it’s courtesy of Michigan’s Yellow Hose Program. Gasoline hasn’t been that cheap since before Nixon. Seeing $1.19 on a fuel station sign, or even seeing the $1.36 that my local Kroger is asking for E85, is psychologically important, and we’re a country that runs on stuff like that.

I’m not going to fill up my not-quite-Super-Coupe with E85; it’s the one modern Honda that can’t handle the juice even with an adapter. Still, the numbers on E85 are now good enough that municipalities might consider filling their flex-fuel cars from the yellow hose, and corporations might follow. I’m also considering building a NASA race car that runs exclusively on E85. If I do that, look for future E85 reports from this writer to have much more factual data and much less descriptions of vodka spilled between someone’s legs, okay?

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  • Madman2k Madman2k on Jan 06, 2015

    I think CNG powered vehicles in many cases would make more sense than gasoline or E85; the infrastructures in most cities are not quite there yet but with some work they could be. All of the city busses in San Diego run CNG and there are several fueling stations open to the public around the metro area. Still, "several" doesn't quite cut it for a metro area with several million people living/working there (the census numbers might say a lower number, but it's northern Tijuana). Here in OKC, there seems to be a few more public CNG stations available. I don't believe these current gas prices will last long, and when they shoot back up next time there's some overseas political issue, CNG will go back to being cheaper.

    • Madanthony Madanthony on Jan 06, 2015

      I see CNG cars up for auction every now and then, usually on govdeals from the DC gov. And then I go online and try to find a CNG station near me and give up.

  • Tomifobia Tomifobia on Jan 06, 2015

    I'm currently driving a 2011 Fusion with the 2.5 4 cylinder. Open the fuel door, and there is a notice around the filler that reads "E85" surrounded by a "NO" symbol. I'll follow the manufacturer's advice and avoid it.

  • ToolGuy ""In the future it will be like this: the odd numbers will be the combustion engines and the even numbers will stand for the battery-electric vehicles,”• Your Audi has a combustion engine? That's odd.
  • ToolGuy "What really made the 1979-1985 Eldorado Biarritz distinctive was this stainless-steel roof panel"• It is not possible to manufacture automotive parts from stainless steel. It must be true because I read it on TTAC.Also, Debt is Amazing and never causes any problems, ever. (Also read this on TTAC)
  • Kcflyer How about, "Fancy VW"?
  • Kcflyer Would be very interested, despite the 4 banger, if not for the direct injection garbage.
  • Wayne back in 55 when I was 10 Grandpa started with 'back her out' of the garage, then on day he crawls into the passenger side and say's take her to the post office. teach them early as you can