E85 ethanol has a benefit for just about everybody: Some people like the fact that the fuel often is much cheaper than regular gasoline, even with gas prices at their cheapest in years. Others appreciate that ethanol is made by American workers and not imported. Still others are motivated by the fact that cleaner-burning ethanol can help reduce smog-forming pollutants that harm health, and cut greenhouse-gas emissions that warm the planet.
Here’s another great selling point: the adrenaline rush you can get by running on a fuel that’s naturally high in octane. That was the main motivator for Wongsar Vann.
“My base for it was strictly performance at first,” he said while filling up his 2005 Subaru Impreza WRX STI with E85 at a station in Costa Mesa, California, recently. He races the souped-up car at various race tracks in Southern California, including Chuckwalla Valley Raceway, east of Joshua Tree National Park.
“It was performance, and safety and reliability,” he added, “because it does run a little bit cooler at the track. The first time I had it at the track, I didn’t overheat once. And before that, on my regular gas tune, it was kind of overheating a little bit after a couple laps, but after I went to E85, my thermometer stayed right in the middle the whole way. For me that really sold me.”
Because the ethanol content in E85 varies between 51 percent and 83, the octane rating can vary as well. But it’s generally between 94 and 105, which puts it much higher than even premium gasoline. Higher ethanol blends burn more efficiently inside the engine, allowing more heat and energy to be consumed in powering the vehicle. Drivers have noticed more torque using E85 compared with dirtier gasoline.
Not long after we talked in Costa Mesa, Vann got his Subaru up to 152 mph at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
Vann, 34, is such a believer in E85 that he entered our contest in October when Pearson Fuels held the grand opening of a station introducing E85 in Desert Hot Springs. San Diego-based Pearson Fuels gave Vann a $50 Amazon gift card. At right, that’s Pearson’s Greg Jones with Vann and his ride.
Pearson is putting E85 pumps at many G&M Oil-owned stations around California, defying the economic odds and giving consumers something they clearly want: fuel choice. The latest station grand opening is Wednesday the Mobil station in Fullerton. Between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., drivers of flex-fuel vehicles can fill up on E85 for only 85 cents a gallon. We’re holding another contest (again for 50 cool bucks): Text PUMP to 24587 anytime between now and Wednesday at 5 to enter. There’s more info on our Facebook page.
Of course, flex-fuel vehicles aren’t the only kinds of vehicles that can take E85. Some people convert their gas-only cars to run on E85 by tweaking the on-board computer. Vann tuned his engine to accommodate the more oxygen-rich E85.
Vann, who lives in car-crazy Huntington Beach, created a logo that says “Corn Army” and plastered it on his car and on T-shirts. (The vast majority of American ethanol is made from corn, although other sources can be used.)
“There’s a lot of us at the track that run E85,” Vann said. “When you switch to E85, you’re part of the Corn Army. The Corn Army is one of those things where it doesn’t just apply to racetracks. People like using FFVs. They’re still using E85, so they’re still part of the Corn Army. … I just thought about it: I was like, ‘There’s not just a small market for it. There’s a big market for it,’ so let’s get the word out.”
- John Brackett made a Volt run on E85, and it was easy
- Pearson’s CA expansion proves there’s demand for E85
- Some drivers are blending their own premium fuel
- Use our Fuels 101 tool to find an E85 station near you
- Infographic: 10 homegrown feedstocks for ethanol