October 31st, 2006

Let's Clear the Air

How To Identify E85/Flex Fuel Vehicles

by NAFTC National Instructor and Contributing Writer Scott Martin

The idea of using ethanol for a motor vehicle fuel has been around since the early 1900s, and even then it was thought of as the fuel of the future. We now live in that future, so why are people still not using ethanol? There is really no easy answer to that question, but I hope I can provide some useful information that will encourage more people to use this renewable energy source.

Ethanol production in the United States is increasing rapidly, with new production plants opening each year. In 2005, approximately ninty-five ethanol plants produced nearly 4 billion gallons of ethanol. Where is all this ethanol going? A portion is used as an oxygenate, meaning that it adds oxygen to the fuel mixture, which reduces emissions through a more complete burn. Ethanol is also used to make ETBE (ethyl tertiary butyl ether), which is used to replace MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether). MTBE has been used to replace lead in gasoline. However, since it is made from methanol, it is now thought to be carcinogenic and may contaminate ground water if it leaks from storage tanks. Many states have banned the use of MTBE, replacing it with the safer ETBE.

The most popular use of ethanol in recent months is to make E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. E85 is catching on, but why aren’t more people using this renewable fuel? Most people don’t realize that their vehicles can operate on E85. There are more than 5 million FFVs on the road today in the United States. Although some auto manufacturers label their FFVs, it is not always clear whether or not a vehicle can use E85. How can you tell if you drive an FFV? It is simple if you have the correct information.

First, start with the vehicle identification number (VIN), seventeen characters and numbers that provide information about your vehicle. The VIN can confirm if the vehicle is capable of running on E85. A chart is provided below to assist you in this process. Count over to the specified characters listed in the chart. If they match your vehicle’s VIN, then you drive an FFV.

Here’s an example:


Your Mercury Sable’s VIN number is WME2RCJ28LWVJ6M98. According to the chart below, the second, third, and eighth character for the Mercury Sable would have to be M, E, and 2 to match Ford Motor Company’s designated characters for an FFV. Your vehicle’s VIN has those characters in those positions, so you can start filling with E85 at your local station.

E85 vehicles also qualify for local and federal tax incentives under the Energy Policy Act of 1992. To find more information about local and federal incentives, visit the Department of Energy’s Web site at www.eere.energy.gov/afdc/laws/incen_laws.html#fed.

For those unfortunate vehicle owners who do not have an FFV, you think you’re out of luck right? Actually, you aren’t! Thanks to a new innovation, it is now possible to convert your gasoline-powered vehicle to operate on ethanol. How does it work? The simple explanation is that FFVs have a coating on the components that are in contact with ethanol, and gasoline vehicles do not. FLEXTEK is an example of one company manufacturing an ethanol fuel conversion kit. This kit provides a simple solution, allowing us to operate a gasoline-fueled vehicle safely on ethanol. The FLEXTEK conversion does not void factory warranty. To find out more about their conversion product, visit their Web site at www.flextek.com.

With the number of ethanol plants on the rise, the growing number of filling stations, automotive manufacturers building more vehicles, and now the ability to convert a vehicle to ethanol, people in the United States can increase their use of this renewable fuel. For an updated list of E85 filling stations, visit the Department of Energy’s Web site at www.afdcmap2.nrel.gov/locator.

*The NAFTC is providing this information to help further the use of ethenol/E85, not to endorse this particular product over any other.

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