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Surprise! E85 is Not Boring
Alternative fuels might not sound terribly exciting when it comes to performance and power but E85 has proven to the performance community it has some real benefits even if reducing our use of fossil fuels isn’t necessarily one of them. For more info on that you can read up here about E85 production and its impact on fossil fuel usage (Could Some Midwest Land Support New Biofuel Refineries?). For the rest of this article we’ll focus on the main benefits and detriments of using E85 in engines that were originally designed for gasoline use only.
Pros & Cons of E85 in Your Volvo
E85 by nature has less energy density than gasoline, which means you have to use ~34% more of it to get the same amount of power as you would from a similar mass of gasoline. While E85 is typically 30-35% less costly than gasoline this alone is not enough to justify its use from a standpoint of cost savings alone. There’s also the consideration of additional engine wear that is attributed to E85 usage over time. Depending on engine construction and model year of vehicle the vehicle components may be more or less resistive to E85 and its effect on rubber/plastic engine parts as well as the cylinder head and pistons themselves. Most fuel injected vehicles from 1980 and on by law are required to tolerate up to 15% ethanol content in the regular fuel supply while most will handle upwards of 30% without issue. Past 1995 and nearly all passenger cars can tolerate 85% ethanol with regard to rubber/plastic in the fuel delivery system. However Ethanol is also hygroscopic which means it is prone to absorb water from the air and condensation so there can be a concern of water entry into the fuel delivery system which can create problems down the road if you live in a high humidity environment. Rusted fuel pumps, injectors, and fuel lines can be a concern if the vehicle sits for long in a humid environment. Lastly is the concern around corrosivity or reaction to aluminum components in then engine. Methanol is corrosive when it comes to aluminum and related parts, ethanol is not. This confusion is typically where people get the idea that E85 will be corrosive and damaging to an engine. For most applications there will be only minor additional wear to the engine if the ECU is properly tuned for E85 usage.
What We All Want to Know... Is There Power In It?
When it comes to using E85 I can’t tell you enough how nice it is to tune for cars with this fuel. Burn temperatures are lower, initial octane rating is much higher than gasoline at ~105, and it’s not uncommon at all to gain 40bhp+ by using E85 alone with no other changes aside from tuning. It does require larger injectors in most cases and some considerable re-tuning of the ECU to take advantage of the octane. For those who might remember the days of adjusting ignition timing at the distributor and feeling the gain of power by just a few degrees of ignition advance, E85 allows for as much as 7-8 degrees of additional ignition advance which can translate to some serious power gains! For bigger builds with larger turbos, higher boost targets, and serious power goals E85 can be a real God send.
Bear In Mind Content And Quality
E85 content and quality is not always the same from one area to another. Actual ethanol content and additive packages can vary from state to state and county to county. So if you can use the same supplier consistently you’re likely to get the most consistent product. Brazil has been leading the charge with E85 production and is one of the largest exporters of the stuff and with usage starting as early as the 1970’s they’ve developed quite an infrastructure that supports it. Nearly all vehicles in Brazil are flex fuel compatible with some toleration E100 (ethanol at 100%). Usage worldwide is generally broader than we might think here stateside but at the end of the day, this tuner's take on E85 is more along the lines of an inexpensive high performance fuel as compared to race gas at the track. While it won’t solve or energy needs anytime soon it certainly has its place in the performance arena and some of the higher horsepower builds out there.
The subject of E85 is broad and wide and we certainly won’t cover all the aspects here. We can however get a better picture of what E85 offers to the performance enthusiast and its real world viability in the performance sector. Want more info? Post up in the comments!
Robert Lucky Arnold
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