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Ethanol FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions.

If you don't see the information you're looking for below, please contact us.

  1. What is ethanol?
  2. What are higher ethanol blends?
  3. What is E85?
  4. How does a blender pump work?
  5. Why would consumers be interested in a blender pump?
  6. Are there additional reasons to have blender pumps?
  7. Is blender pump installation complicated?
  8. Can higher ethanol blends be used in any vehicle?
  9. How many flex fuel vehicles are on the road?
  10. How do higher blends affect gas mileage?
  11. Will non-FFV vehicles be allowed to use higher blends of ethanol in the future?
  12. Are there state incentives available for the purchase of alternative fuel vehicles?
  13. Does an FFV cost more than a gasoline-only model?
  14. Are repairs and maintenance costs for FFVs any different than they are for gasoline-only vehicles?
  15. Does it take more energy to produce a gallon of ethanol than the energy we get out of it?
  16. How much water is required for ethanol production?
  17. Can ethanol fuel be used in any vehicle?
  18. Is E85 more toxic or dangerous than gasoline?
  19. If E85 is spilled on the ground, can it contaminate ground water?
  20. What is the difference in putting out an ethanol fire versus putting out a gasoline fire?
  21. What happens if I accidentally fuel my gasoline-only powered vehicle with E85?
  22. Is my vehicle E85 compatible?
  23. Can my vehicle be converted to operate on E85?
  24. How does E85 affect the environment?
  25. How does E85 affect the economy?
  26. How does E85 impact energy independence?
  27. Are prices of other foods rising because of ethanol?

What is ethanol?

Ethanol is a high octane, liquid, domestic and renewable fuel, produced by the fermentation of plant sugars. In the United States, ethanol is typically produced from corn and other grain products, although in the future it may be economically produced from other biomass resources such as agricultural and forestry wastes or specially grown energy crops.

  • E85 has an octane of approximately 105.
  • E85, in most cases, sells for less than the price of unleaded gasoline.
  • Ethanol reduces the incidence of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Ethanol is domestically produced and promotes energy independence.
  • Ethanol production increases the value of feed grains grown by farmers.
  • Ethanol is biodegradable and does not contaminate water.
  • Ethanol can be produced from a number of different feedstocks including paper and agricultural waste.

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What are higher ethanol blends?

Higher blends include any ethanol blend above 10 percent (E10). The most common are E20, E30, E40 and E85. The “E” in the designation simply indicates that the fuel contains ethanol — and the number associated with it is the percentage of ethanol in that blend. For example, E20 is 20 percent ethanol, 80 percent gasoline. E85, the most common higher blend, is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

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What is E85?

E85 is the term for motor fuel blends of 85 percent ethanol and just 15 percent gasoline. E85 is an alternative fuel as defined by the U.S. Department of Energy. Besides its superior performance characteristics, ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline; it is a completely renewable, domestic, environmentally friendly fuel that enhances the nation’s economy and energy independence.

Today, the U. S. imports more than half of its oil, and overall consumption continues to increase. By supporting ethanol production and use, U.S. drivers can help reverse that trend. 85% ethanol can reduce pollution. Government tests have shown that E85 vehicles reduce harmful hydrocarbon and benzene emissions when compared to vehicles running on gasoline. E85 can also reduce carbon dioxide (CO2), a harmful greenhouse gas and a major contributor to global warming.

Although CO2 is released during ethanol production and combustion, it is recaptured as a nutrient to the crops that are used in its production. Unlike fossil fuel combustion, which unlocks carbon that has been stored for millions of years, use of ethanol results in low increases to the carbon cycle.

Ethanol also degrades quickly in water and, therefore, poses much less risk to the environment than an oil or gasoline spill.

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How does a blender pump work?

A blender pump draws fuel from two underground tanks and blends the fuels as dictated by the consumer’s choice of blend. One tank can contain either E10 (10 percent ethanol) or regular unleaded gasoline. The other tank can contain either E85 (85 percent ethanol) or denatured ethanol. As the consumer chooses the blend on the dispenser face, the blender pump automatically draws fuel from each tank as appropriate in order to deliver the preferred blend.

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Why would consumers be interested in a blender pump?

A blender pump, or flex fuel pump, gives an FFV owner a great deal of flexibility and options. Just because you drive an FFV does not mean you have to fill up with E85 all the time. A blender pump gives FFV owners the opportunity to fill up with various ethanol blends based on pricing and their vehicle’s performance.

Since the blender pump includes E10 as a standard choice for consumers, you are also providing a fuel that virtually every consumer can use. Additionally, when you have a blender pump at your station, you are showing consumers that you have their best interests in mind.

For the retailer, this technology also allows the cost of the dispenser to be spread across all blends and all customers.

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Are there additional reasons to have blender pumps?

The Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) mandates that 36 billion gallons of ethanol be blended into our nation’s fuel supply by 2022. If all fuel contained 10 percent ethanol, that would only be 14 billion gallons of ethanol. The higher-level blends offered at blender pumps are necessary to meet this important goal.

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Is blender pump installation complicated?

The technology that allows a blender pump to work is resident in the pump mechanism itself, so you simply need to connect the pump to two underground storage tanks, something you likely have connected to your pump locations currently. You’ll need to clean the tanks as necessary in order to accommodate the two fuels for the blender pump. If you already have E10 or ordinary gasoline in one tank, most likely you can fill the other with E85 or denatured ethanol and be ready to install your blender pump

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Can higher ethanol blends be used in any vehicle?

No. While all major automakers approve the use of E10 (10 percent ethanol) in their vehicles, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) only allows the use of higher blends in blender vehicles (FFVs). FFVs have specially designed fuel systems that automatically adjust to run on a wide range of fuel blends — from E85 to E10 to 100 percent ordinary gasoline, and every combination in between. (That’s why they are known as “flex” fuel vehicles.)

A computer in the vehicle automatically adjusts for the amount of ethanol in the gasoline, allowing a driver to fill up with E85 one time, E10 the next, etc. as availability and price dictate. Obviously, this mixing of ethanol blends may result in higher blends of ethanol in the tank at any one time—and the computer system adjusts to compensate accordingly. That’s why blender pumps make sense for FFV owners.

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How many flex fuel vehicles are on the road?

There are more than 8 million FFVs on America’s highways today — and the three U.S.-based automakers have committed to manufacture 50 percent of their vehicles as FFVs by 2012. There are more than 2,000 E85 fueling stations across the nation and 135 stations with a blender pump installed — and more are being added every week.

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How do higher blends affect gas mileage?

Preliminary studies have actually shown fuel economy gains with mid-level blends such as E20 and E30. E85 does have a fuel economy loss, but is typically priced low enough to offset that loss. (That’s the advantage of owning a FFV. You have more options as fuel prices fluctuate). By the way, most drivers using E10 (the standard 10 percent ethanol blend) see no difference in fuel economy — and some see a gain.

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Will non-FFV vehicles be allowed to use higher blends of ethanol in the future?

Testing is underway to determine the effectiveness of blends up to E20 in non-FFV vehicles.

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Are there state incentives available for the purchase of alternative fuel vehicles?

Yes. Visit this link to the U.S. Department of Energy’s website to learn about incentives available in your state.

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Does an FFV cost more than a gasoline-only model?


Flexible fuel vehicles (those vehicles with engines that operate on E85 gasoline-or any blend thereof) are standard equipment on certain makes and models of automobiles and trucks produced by Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Chrysler, Nissan, Mazda Motors and Toyota.

In these models, the vehicles are available with an E85 flexible fuel engine. Some are also available as gasoline-only powered engines. The ability of these vehicles to operate on both E85 and gasoline are provided by the automakers at no additional cost to the consumer. These vehicles carry the same warranties as those which can only operate on gasoline.

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Are repairs and maintenance costs for FFVs any different than they are for gasoline-only vehicles?


No. In fact, studies and analysis currently underway indicate that a vehicle operating on mid to high blends of ethanol runs both cleaner from the exhaust emission aspect and in regard to the engine operation/performance. While these studies are not yet completed, evidence exists that some maintenance costs may actually be reduced in the long run.

During current model years, Chrysler does require the use of a special motor oil to operate vehicles it produces on E85. Both GM and Ford allow their E85 vehicles to be operated on the same motor oils used in gasoline-only operation and at the same oil change frequency.

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Does it take more energy to produce a gallon of ethanol than the energy we get out of it?


No. This has been a common misconception of the ethanol industry, that it takes more energy to make ethanol than is available to the final consumer. Remember, ethanol is produced from plant matter, today dominated by corn, wheat, potatoes, sorgum, etc. Plants grow through the use of energy provided by the sun and are a renewable resources. In the future, ethanol will be produced from waste products or “energy crops.” In fact, a partner of Growth Energy Market Development, BC International (BCI), is currently constructing an ethanol production plant in Louisiana that will use sugar cane waste to produce ethanol. Additionally, BCI is considering the establishment of ethanol production facilities in California that would use the waste hulls from rice growers and wood waste from the forest industry to produce ethanol. Energy crops such as perennial switch grasses, timothy, and other high-output/low-input crops will be used in the future.

Current research prepared by Argonne National Laboratory (a U.S. Department of Energy Laboratory), indicates a 38% gain in the overall energy input/output equation for the corn-to-ethanol process. That is, if 100 BTUs of energy is used to plant corn, harvest the crop, transport it, etc., 138 BTUs of energy is available in the fuel ethanol. Corn yields and processing technologies have improved significantly over the past 20 years and they continue to do so, making ethanol production less and less energy intensive.

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How much water is required for ethanol production?

Ethanol and gasoline use a similar amount of water for production – about 3 gallons of water for every gallon. In fact, a 40 million gallon per year ethanol plant uses roughly the same amount of water on a daily basis as an 18-hole golf course.

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Can ethanol fuel be used in any vehicle?


Gasoline-ethanol blends containing up to 10% volume ethanol may be used in any vehicle. The addition of ethanol boosts octane and, because it is an oxygenate, ethanol contributes to a more complete fuel combustion resulting in reduced emissions of carbon monoxide and other ozone-forming emissions. All major auto manufacturers approve the use of up to 10% volume ethanol.

In fact, some manufacturers, such as General Motors, Chrysler, Ford, Nissan, Range Rover, and Suzuki recommend the use of oxygenated fuels and/or reformulated gasoline for their clean burning characteristics. Blends above 10% volume are not approved by the auto manufacturers or the EPA for use in standard gasoline engine vehicles.

The Energy Policy Act of 1992 also recognizes E85 (a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% unleaded gasoline) as an alternative fuel. In order to operate on E85, vehicles need to be compatible with alcohol use. The conversion cost to make FFVs compatible with E85 typically includes upgrades to the fuel system components, the addition of a fuel sensor, and reprogramming the EPOM (computer chip) in the ECM/PCM (electronic control module/power train control module).

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Is E85 more toxic or dangerous than gasoline?


No. 100% ethanol can be and is ingested by human beings. The fuel ethanol must be “denatured” with gasoline or a bitter agent to prevent ingestion. Also, ethanol does not contain the harmful carcinogens and toxins found in gasoline.


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If E85 is spilled on the ground, can it contaminate ground water?

Ethanol is water soluble, non-toxic and biodegradable. E85 contains roughly 80% less of the potential contaminants found in gasoline.

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What is the difference in putting out an ethanol fire versus putting out a gasoline fire?


The National Fire Protection Association is a consortium of fire experts from across a wide range of areas of expertise.  NFPA publishes brochures and documents the outline how to fight fires, build fire-resistant buildings, etc.

NFPA Code 30 and 30A establish firefighting techniques for unleaded gasoline.  NFPA 30 and 30A also recommend that the same form of fire fighting chemicals and techniques be used on E85 as is used to fight fires fueled with unleaded gasoline.  The NFPA does not require different fire fighting for ethanol in comparison to gasoline.

For more information, go to

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What happens if I accidentally fuel my gasoline-only powered vehicle with E85?


Although your vehicle was not manufactured to run on E85, no problems should occur if you mistakenly fuel once with the alternative fuel.  The largest difference between an E85 powered vehicle and a gasoline powered vehicle is that their computer modules are meant to read different amounts of oxygen within the fuel.  E85 contains a higher amount of oxygen than gasoline and E85 compatible vehicles are made to read that higher amount.  When a higher amount of oxygen is read by a gasoline powered vehicle, your “check engine light” may appear.  A number of other parts on the FFV’s fuel delivery system are modified to be ethanol-compatible.  The fuel tank, fuel lines, fuel injectors, computer system and anti-siphon device have been modified slightly.  Alcohol fuels can be more corrosive than gasoline.  Therefore; fuel system parts have been upgraded to be ethanol-compatible.

Ultimately it is a drivers choice, but we do need to be firm in recommending that only FFVs use E85 and to state that we are not responsible for damages.

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Is my vehicle E85 compatible?

View this PDF to see if your vehicle is E85 compatible, and to see a full list of flex fuel vehicles being sold today.

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Can my vehicle be converted to operate on E85?

This is a common question asked of the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. In the strictest sense, yes, a vehicle that was designed to operate on unleaded gasoline only could be converted to operate on E85. Realistically, the conversion is extremely difficult. Below explains the reasoning. Be aware that Flex Fuel U.S. has obtained the only U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval for an E85 conversion kit. The Flex-Box Smart Kit™ is approved for for Dodge vehicles such as the Dodge Charger, Dodge Magnum, Chrysler 300 2wd and AWD 5.7L Hemi as well as vehicles from Ford that include Crown Victoria, LIncoln Town Car, Mustang, F150, Navigator and Expedition.

During the 1980’s and early 1990’s, many small companies were formed that were altering gasoline-powered vehicles to operate on other forms of fuels such as propane, compressed natural gas, 85 percent ethanol and 85 percent methanol. The marketing program of these conversion companies was based on the premise that it was cheaper to operate a vehicle on alternative fuels. However, the vehicles being converted were engineered, designed and built to operate on unleaded only. Shortly after the emergence of the “conversion firms” the EPA determined that when converted from gasoline to another form of fuel, the exhaust emissions from these converted vehicles were often much “dirtier” than prior to conversion. See explanation regarding EPA Memo 1A. The use of alternative fuels in the transportation sector has been built around the objectives of using cleaner, non-gasoline based components.

Based on the federal authority provided to the EPA through the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, the EPA implemented regulations that required the exhaust emissions from vehicles converted to run on alternative fuels be “as clean as the exhaust emissions of the original gasoline equipment.” That is, if Ford Motor Company manufactured a vehicle to meet federal emissions standards on gasoline, a company converting that vehicle to operate on propane, must be able to certify that the emissions from the converted vehicle was as good as the original. A process to certify such after-market equipment was initiated and ultimately, few if any conversion kits were able to qualify.

Today, 99.9 percent of the vehicles that are capable of operating on alternative transportation fuels are produced by the original equipment manufacturers such as Ford, General Motors, and DaimlerChrysler. Engineers from these companies are able to design and build vehicles that meet the EPA exhaust emission standards. These companies also are required to warranty the exhaust emissions from these vehicles for 10 years or 100,000 miles, something very few conversion companies are able to accomplish. However, as you will read below, that might be changing.

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How does E85 affect the environment?

E85 has the highest oxygen content of any transportation fuel available today, making it burn cleaner than gasoline. Fewer exhaust emissions result in reduced production of smog and a decline in respiratory illness associated with poor air quality. E85 also reduces greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide, the main contributor to global warming, as much as 39 to 46 percent compared to gasoline.

Since E85’s main ingredient is ethanol, which is non-toxic, water soluble and biodegradable, E85 is simply a better fuel for the world around us.

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How does E85 affect the economy?

As was the case in the early 1970s, the American motorist has recently experienced a new run-up in the price of motor gasoline. The oil shortages of 1973-74 were the result of an embargo; the oil charges of 1991 were the result of the Gulf War; while the price spike of early 2000 was the result of planned supply reductions which increased the price of crude oil from $11 to $32 per barrel. This increased price of imported oil has also been the primary cause of the U.S. balance of trade deficit setting record after record, month after month.

The United States imports over 53 percent of its total energy and uses more energy than any other nation in the world. The use of alternative fuels, including propane, natural gas, methanol, electricity, and ethanol, will all contribute to a reduction in the amount of crude oil used in vehicle operations.

Not only does using E85 help reduce American dependence on foreign oil, but because Ethanol is produced from crops grown in the U.S., it can also help stabilize commodity prices. And because E85 is a viable, home-grown alternative to gasoline, E85 provides competition, which is good for consumers.

In the near future, a wide range of waste products will be used to produce ethanol, further developing our national energy independence.Ethanol production is estimated to increase net farm income more than $4.5 billion. It boosts employment by 200,000 jobs and improves the balance of trade by over $2 billion.The pricing for E85 is comparable to traditional gasoline.

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How does E85 impact energy independence?

Energy independence was forefront in the minds of Americans during the 1970s when gas prices soared and lines formed at every gas station. Consumers responded with energy saving practices and smaller cars…and then quickly forgot. We forgot that using less oil is only one part of the solution. Ultimately we need to be more energy independent.

Twenty years later, prices are again soaring and consumers are demanding answers. Well, this time E85 offers an alternative. E85 is a home-grown alternative fuel produced from crops and waste products. It is environmentally good for us—think of it…turning waste into fuel! It is economically good for us—stabilizing commodity prices and increasing U.S. jobs. It is good for our transportation needs—with more than 750,000 flexible fuel vehicles on the market this year.

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Are prices of other foods rising because of ethanol?

It’s an argument we’ve all heard - that ethanol is driving up food prices by stealing away corn and farmland for the production of fuel. Ethanol has been blamed over the past two years for everything from higher grocery bills to world hunger.

Here’s why: about two years ago, Big Food initiated a massive smear campaign against ethanol. It’s been their goal since early 2007 to turn public opinion by placing the blame for high food prices specifically on our industry.

But they seem to have overlooked one gaping hole in their plan - the fact that ethanol actually has little to no effect on the price of food. We know this now because the price of corn for both food and fuel has dropped dramatically - while the price of food at the grocery store is the same. Big Food is making record profits while Americans are hurting, and they’re actively blaming it on ethanol. Ironically, ethanol has been saving money for both consumers and grocers by keeping the price of gas down.

Ethanol will soon be made from cellulose in plant material - like agricultural waste, wood chips, and native switchgrass that actually improves soil quality, helping sustainable agriculture. We’re just a few years from mass-producing cellulosic ethanol, yet the plan set forth by Big Food specifically aims to hamper its development, as well as that of all other biofuels.

But the question that all of us should be asking them is this: Now that you can’t blame ethanol, what’s the real reason food prices are so high?

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