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What is E85 fuel?

E85 is an ethanol-gasoline blend that may contain up to 85 per cent fuel ethanol and 15 per cent petrol. Image: Donellans.com.au

What is a E85 Fuel?

E85 is an ethanol-gasoline blend that may contain up to 85 per cent fuel ethanol and 15 per cent petrol.

It’s found favour as a race fuel, and E85-powered vehicles are said to produce lower net CO2 emissions. But they do, however, record higher fuel consumption.

With cost-of-living pressures forcing everyone to tighten their belts – well, everyone except that one smarmy mate of yours with a power boat and four jet skis because they're always rolling in cash! – we’re all looking for ways to save money.

And with fuel proving so expensive these days, even FuelCheck apps don’t quite cut it in the cost-saving stakes.

Is another fuel source – other than your traditional unleaded petrol, or diesel, or even electricity – the solution?

Is something with an ethanol component, such as E85, a viable option?

So, should you convert your current vehicle to take E85?

Read on.

E85 is an ethanol-gasoline blend that may contain up to 85 per cent fuel ethanol and 15 per cent petrol. (Image: Matt Campbell)

What is E85? What does it stand for? What is it a combination of? 

E85 is an ethanol-gasoline blend that may contain up to 85 per cent fuel ethanol and 15 per cent petrol: E = ethanol, 85 = 85 per cent.

The ethanol content in E85 may range up to 85 per cent depending on the country in which you reside and other factors including the current season.

For example, United E85 ('race blend') in Australia is a blended fuel of 85 per cent ethanol and 15 per cent Premium 98 with an octane rating of 107.

It is only suitable for cars that have been specifically built or modified for engines to use E85.

What is unique about E85? What is E85 made from? Well, it’s up to 85 per cent ethanol and that means it’s made from plants.

No, not organic matter from your dying pot plant at home, it’s sourced from crops such as sugar cane, corn, sorghum, and barley to be precise.

E85-powered vehicles are said to produce lower net CO2 emissions. (Image: National Speed Inc.)

What's ethanol? Ethanol is ethyl alcohol, the result of a starchy crop such as corn being milled, and put through a fermentation process similar to the way beer is made.

But instead of being bottled and ending up in the sweaty fists of shouty armchair sports experts everywhere, this mixture is distilled and filtered in order to extract the ethanol. 

What is ethanol fuel? Put simply, that’s the left-over stuff from the above process that can be used as fuel.

As mentioned, E85 has found fans in the motor-racing industry because of its high octane rating. What is its octane rating? What octane is E85? The E85 octane rating may exceed a rating of 100. 

Is ethanol fuel unleaded? Ethanol blends such as E10 or E85 contain some unleaded petrol: E10 has 90 per cent petrol; E85 has 15 per cent petrol.

E10 vs E85: E10 is an ethanol-gasoline blend that may contain up to 10 per cent fuel ethanol and 90 per cent petrol. 

United E85 ('race blend') in Australia is a blended fuel of 85 per cent ethanol and 15 per cent Premium 98 with an octane rating of 107. (Image: United Petroleum)

The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) says, “Many new and older vehicle models effectively operate on petrol with up to 10 per cent ethanol, i.e. E10.” 

Which kinds of cars is E85 right for? The consensus is that E85 (aka E85 flex fuel, aka E85 gas) should not used in a mainstream vehicle unless that vehicle has been converted to cope with the heavier ethanol blend.

E85 is intended for cars specifically tuned for it and equipped with a supporting fuel system.

Can it damage your car? Avoid putting it in your car unless you know for sure that doing so won’t wreck your engine, components and/or void your warranty.

What are the benefits of E85 fuel? It’s believed to produce lower net CO2 emissions than something like unleaded petrol, but E85-fuelled vehicles do, however, record higher fuel consumption.

What are the downsides? The use of E85 results in higher fuel consumption and the heavier ethanol blend may result in fuel system corrosion and the degradation of rubber components, such as fuel hoses.

E85 is used in Brazil, Europe, the USA, and other countries around the world.

The jury’s still out on whether E85’s positives outweigh the negatives.

Is it comparatively expensive? At time of writing, E85 was selling in Australia for between $1.59 per litre and $2.79 per litre.

Why is E85 so expensive? Because it’s a high-octane race fuel. It’s not intended for daily-driving mainstream cars.

How common is it in Australia? How can you find out where E85 is located near you?

E85 is not that commonly available in Australia, especially when compared to other more traditional fuels such as unleaded, premium unleaded and diesel, however, United Petroleum service stations do stock E85. 

What about other countries? E85 is used in Brazil, Europe, the USA, and other countries around the world.

Marcus Craft
Contributing Journalist
Raised by dingoes and, later, nuns, Marcus (aka ‘Crafty’) had his first taste of adventure as a cheeky toddler on family 4WD trips to secret fishing spots near Bundaberg, Queensland....
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