Flex Fuel Vehicles – Running on any mix

A flexible fueled vehicle (FFV) has a single fuel tank, fuel system, and engine. The vehicle is designed to run on unleaded gasoline and an alcohol fuel (usually ethanol) in any mixture. The engine and fuel system in a flex-fuel vehicle must be adapted slightly to run on alcohol fuels because they are corrosive. There must also be a special sensor in the fuel line to analyze the fuel mixture and control the fuel injection and timing to adjust for different fuel compositions. The flex-fuel vehicle offers its owner an environmentally beneficial option whenever the alternative fuel is available.

Flex-fuel technology was created by Ford Motor Company in the mid-1980s. Flexible fueled vehicles (also called variable fuel vehicles) have been produced by Ford (Ranger, Crown Victoria and Taurus), GM (Chevy S-10 and GMC Sonoma), and Daimler-Chrysler (Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan).

The expanding Flex Fuel Vehicles and Ethanol

Many vehicles on the road today can run on blends of ethanol and gasoline, most on lower-level blends such as E10 (10% ethanol and 90% gasoline), and many on higher level blends such as E85 (85% ethanol and 15% gasoline). Because of the abundance of ethanol-compatible vehicles, the future is bright for ethanol as a fuel.

Most of today’s commercially available vehicles can run on blends of E10, which is mandated in some areas of the country to act as a fuel oxygenate to improve air quality.

In addition, many newer vehicles can use E85, which qualifies as an alternative fuel under the Energy Policy Act of 1992. Vehicles that can run on E85, gasoline, or any mixture of the two are called flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs). FFVs are widely available and include sedans, minivans, sport utility vehicles, and pickup trucks. More than 5 million FFVs have already been sold in the United States, although many of the buyers remain unaware that they have the option to fuel with E85.

General Motors recently announced a new E85/FFV campaign, "Live Green, Go Yellow." Learn more about this marketing campaign by visiting the GM Web site.

Because of limited crude oil supplies and refining capacity, and rising concern over environmental degradation, there is a good market outlook for ethanol. Ethanol can be produced not only from corn, barley, and wheat, but also from cellulose feedstocks such as corn stalks, rice straw, sugar cane bagasse, pulpwood, switchgrass, and municipal solid waste. Because of the variety of feedstocks that can be used, ethanol offers tremendous opportunities for new jobs and economic growth outside the traditional "grain belt."

Currently, most E85 fueling stations are located in the Midwest, but infrastructure is growing nation wide. Flex Fuel vehicles can fuel at these stations today.

Looking into the future, the ethanol industry envisions a time when ethanol may be used as a fuel to produce hydrogen for fuel cell vehicle applications.

Converting fueling equipment for ethanol e85 fuel

Use the information on this page as a guide to help convert existing fuel pumps to be E85 compatible. This page intends to provide a general guide to the process, but you should consult a professional as well. Every fueling location is unique and there may be some additional steps that should be taken based on your individual location requirements.

How can I convert my current fueling equipment to E85?
Understanding the issues related to converting existing equipment to be E85 compatible is an important step to installing an E85 infrastructure. In general, newer petroleum equipment that is in good condition may be used with E85 in most areas of the country and with minor modifications. Local and state requirements will vary and your project contractor will know your local rules.

Three primary concerns exist with converting existing equipment to E85 fueling.

1. Condition of the existing equipment: Your tank and lines must be clean because the high-alcohol content of E85 will “clean out” and absorb contamination left behind by years of petroleum and diesel fuel storage. If the previous fuel used in the equipment was an ethanol-blended gasoline, this may pose less of a concern. Converting diesel equipment may require more thorough cleaning due to scale that may have built up in these systems.

2. Compatibility: In addition, older fuel lines and dispenser components may not be compatible with the higher alcohol content of E85. Just as with petroleum dispensing systems, vigilance and periodic maintenance checks can help prevent leaks and component failures. If using an older dispenser, it is advisable to check them on a monthly basis regardless of what fuel is used.

Components on newer fueling equipment are often tested to be “100% Methanol or Ethanol” compatible and have been used with E85 for several years without incident.

There are no known compatibility concerns with steel tanks and E85. According to Sullivan Curran of the Fiberglass Tank and Pipe Institute (National Petroleum News interview of June 2004), single-wall fiberglass tanks may not be appropriate for fuel ethanol concentrations of greater than 30 percent. The same is not true of double-wall fiberglass tanks or fiberglass pipe; however, this should be verified with your supplier.

3. Metering Accuracy: If incompatible materials are present within the fuel dispenser and its metering system, over time, the possibility exists for the meter to fail or become less accurate. Some manufacturers feel this is a very important concern and will not extend warrantees to non-petroleum uses of their dispensers. In a decade of use in E85 pilot markets, dispenser failures have been rare. If a dispenser meter were to fail, it would lead to more (not less) fuel dispensed than would be registered. At retail locations where weights and measures agencies check fuel dispensers, a problem will be discovered during annual testing if not immediately by the station’s fuel accounting system.

Although E85 dispenser failures are rare, fuel contamination problems have been uncovered. In nearly every case, these were attributed to poor tank cleaning or a failure to use the proper filters, nozzle, or hose. At a minimum, all E85 fueling systems should use non-aluminum nozzles, 1- or 2-micron dispenser filters, and an alcohol compatible hose (e.g. Teflon-coated).