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Ethanol is a renewable fuel made from corn and various other plant materials collectively known as "biomass".  The use of ethanol is widespread and more than 95% of U.S. gasoline contains ethanol in a low-level blend to oxygenate the fuel and reduce air pollution. 

Ethanol is also available as E85—a high-level ethanol blend containing 51% to 83% ethanol, depending on geography and season—for use in flexible fuel vehicles. This alternative fuel can be used in flexible fuel vehicles- a vehicle type that has an internal combustion engine and runs on either E85 or gasoline.

There are several steps involved in making ethanol available as a vehicle fuel:

  • Biomass feedstocks are grown, collected and transported to an ethanol production facility
  • Feedstocks are made into ethanol at a production facility and transported to a blender/fuel supplier
  • Ethanol is mixed with gasoline by the blender/fuel supplier and distributed to fueling stations

Ethanol as a vehicle fuel is not a new concept. Henry Ford and other early automakers suspected it would be the world's primary fuel before gasoline became so readily available. Today, researchers agree ethanol could substantially offset our nation's petroleum use. In fact, studies have estimated that ethanol and other biofuels could replace 30% or more of U.S. gasoline demand by 2030.

Flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) have an internal combustion engine and are capable of operating on gasoline, E85 (a gasoline-ethanol blend containing 51% to 83% ethanol, depending on geograpy and season), or a mixture of the two. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there are more than 8 million FFVs on U.S. roads today. However, many flex fuel vehicle owners don't realize their car is an FFV and that they have a choice of fuels. 

Othen than employing an ethanol-compatible fuel system and powertrain calibration, FFVs are similar to their conventional gasoline counterparts. The only difference is that the fuel economy is lower when FFVs run on ethanol. Their power, acceleration, payload, and cruise speed are comparable whether running on ethanol or gasoline.

More Information Located on the Alternative Fuels Data Center