Friday, April 15, 2022

Economical Living: Using Alternative Fuel

Inflation and world unrest have really done a number on gas prices this year. While the economy and governmental policies are pushing us towards an electric vehicle future, it's not here yet for most people and for special needs people that need an adapted vehicle in particular (check this article out to get depressed about the state of accessibiltiy adapted electic vehicles).

Along with the gas prices, the cost of an adapted vehicle is through the roof. Used vans less that five years old are going for over $40k. New ones can push the price upwards between $75-100k.

If you already have a vehicle, the only choices are to look for cheaper fuel or drive less. 

One thing you may be able to do is use an alternative fuel. In our case, our van is a Flex Fuel enabled vehicle. That means we can use a blend of up to 85% ethanol (15% gasoline) in our car in place of gasoline.

You can tell if your car is flex fuel enabled by looking at the fuel fill point...if it is yellow or has a yellow cap, that indicates that your car can use flex fuel. Most flex fuel vehicles also have a badge on the bodywork.

It is also possible, but expensive, to convert an older car to run E-85, click on the link for information.

With all that in mind, I decided to check it out. Our nearest gas station that sells E-85 (the name for 85% ethanol) is in Placerville, California. The day we went, the price for regular gasoline was $5.85 per gallon. The E-85 was $3.99 per gallon (the same day, a gallon of regular at the nearest Costco 15 miles away was $5.29 per gallon), a savings of $1.86 per gallon. Our van can hold 35 gallons so a tank of E-85 would cost $45 - $65 less than gas at the cost of fuel as I type this.

That is a very significant amount of money but how does it perform compared to gasoline?

Our van is a 2014 Ford E-150 van with a 5.4 liter V8 engine. Using gasoline, we get about 12 miles per gallon driving around our neighborhood and about 15 miles per gallon on the highway. The E-85 comes in at a mile per gallon less...11 around our neighborhood.

At that MPG, the fuel cost is 45-48 cents per mile for gas and 33 cents per mile for E-85, enough that there's still a substantial savings per tank using E-85 over gasoline.

The pros of using E-85 in our van also include increased performance from our engine. E-85 has an equivalent of over 100 octane. It's a renewable fuel, for the most part, made from corn, sugar cane, and other plant products which also help with carbon capture while growing. 

Some of the cons of using E-85 include availability. In our area, it is not widespread. The closest three stations that do sell it are over 25 miles away. I need to make sure I have a reason to be there to make it worthwhile.

Other concerns are that the ethanol content may vary. E-85 only needs 51% ethanol to be able to be labeled "E-85," so you may not be getting quite what you think you are and there is still some CO2 being released although it is quite a bit less than gasolines emissions. Older vehicles may also have parts, like rubber seals, that can be negatively affected by ethanol.

So, it it worth it? For us, at current fuel prices, it is certainly worth it if we're in need of fuel and near a station that sells it. With the information above, as they say, your mileage may vary.

Click this link to find fuel stations that sell E85 fuel near you.

Darryl Musick
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