What is E85 Ethanol?

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  • Written By: Summer Banks
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 18 February 2020
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E85 Ethanol is an alternative fuel used to power automobiles throughout the world. The 85 refers to the fact that 85% of the fuel is ethanol with the remaining 15% being standard gasoline and other hydrocarbons. Gasoline often has concentrations of ethanol mixed in to reduce the carbon emissions from cars.

Ethanol fuel is created, in most cases, from corn or wheat kernels. The kernels are ground into powder to release the starch in the kernel. Once ground, the kernels are cooked with water and chemicals to convert the exposed starch to sugar. This process is called hydrolysis.

After hydrolysis, yeast is added to the mixture, which converts the sugar to ethanol. The mixture is distilled to remove the ethanol and then dehydrated to remove the water. Advances in ethanol creation may be moving toward a 100% synthetic version of the fuel in order to reduce the need for additional corn and wheat crops.

According to information reported in a Cornell University study, about 775 gallons (2933.7 liters) of ethanol can be manufactured from corn grown on 2.47 acres (one hectare) of land. A piece of land this size can produce up to 17,561 pounds of corn. This averages out to 22 pounds (7.7 kg) of corn per gallon (3.78 liters) of ethanol.


E85 ethanol produces more octane than traditional gasoline. The octane rating for E85 ethanol may range from 100 to 105. Traditional gasoline can be purchased with an octane level between 85 and 93. While ethanol gas offers more octane power, the use of this fuel in engines created for traditional gasoline could reduce fuel mileage and cause harm to the engine by deteriorating rubber fuel system components.

This ethanol biofuel burns in a car’s engine at approximately 76,000 BTUs (80,130.6 J) per gallon (3.78 liters) of fuel. Traditional gasoline burns at approximately 114,000 BTUs (120,195.9 J) per gallon (3.78 liters). This difference can cause a significant reduction in fuel economy. Often, ethanol 85 will be sold for less money than traditional fuels. In the United States, for instance, E85 ethanol tends to be sold for about 15 to 30% less than average gasoline prices.

The carbon footprint of ethanol fuel can be significantly less than traditional gasoline. Currently, the use of ethanol biofuel can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% when compared to gasoline. With improvements in car engines, the greenhouse gas reduction from corn-based E85 ethanol could reach up to 52%. Experts believe the use of cellulose to produce E85 ethanol can increase the greenhouse gas reduction to more than 85%.



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