When filling up your vehicle's tank at the gas station, you might be wondering what is the difference between regular gasoline and the fuel they call ethanol? Should I be using one over the other? Have I been putting the wrong type of fuel in my vehicle?
Often times the choice is based on price, availability, and the manufacturer's recommendations. Depending on what area of the country you’re in, you may not even be able to find regular gasoline that doesn’t have
Don’t let the wrong choice keep you from improving the performance and fuel efficiency of your vehicle.
The Differences Between Ethanol and Gasoline
- A gallon of gasoline provides one-third more energy than a gallon of ethanol.
- Blending ethanol and gasoline at a ratio of 85 percent to 15 percent (E85), the blended fuel is nearly thirty percent less powerful than pure gasoline. Ethanol is similar in acceleration, power, and cruising ability, but ethanol miles per gallon are less than pure gasoline.
- Ethanol causes damage to fuel systems and engines that pure gasoline does not. The most critical problems are water contamination and fuel separation. Ethanol attracts and absorbs water, including water from the air. When the gasohol absorbs enough water, fuel water contamination occurs in the car’s gas tank and that affects engine performance. If the car sits for a while, fuel separation occurs; this is where the gas and water form layers in the gas tank and if the motor sucks up the water layer into the engine, serious costly, damage happens.
- Ethanol is alcohol, and alcohol causes corrosion in the fuel system. Metal parts rust and plastic parts become deformed or cracked.
- Ethanol is not an ideal fuel additive, and older cars especially have problems with ethanol fuel.
If ethanol is less efficient than gasoline and can even damage cars, why is it being blended and sold?
First, gasoline blended with ethanol burns cleaner than pure gasoline. Ethanol cuts a car’s greenhouse gas emissions. The additional of ethanol to gasoline makes it an “oxygenate” which satisfies the requirements of the Federal legislation known as the Clean Air Act.
The second reason is that ethanol comes from corn, and it is big business. Agribusiness is a powerful lobby in Washington and with environmentalists siding with them on this issue; the use of ethanol will spread. Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency allowed E15 to join E10 at the fuel pump.
While E10 is widely available, E15 gasoline is only sold in a handful of states and then in just a few filling stations. E15 is sold in Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska.
When the Environmental Protection Agency approved E15, it restricted its use and excluded the following from running on it.
- Heavy-duty vehicles
- Lawn mowers
- Off-road vehicles
- Power equipment
Most cars that were manufactured after 2001 and made to run on “flex fuel” can use E15. All major vehicle manufacturers are exploring voiding warranties on cars using E15 despite engineered for no more than E10 fuel.
In addition, the cost of pure gasoline or ethanol-blended gasoline is about the same, making the only reason to use ethanol-blended gas an environmental one.
Availability of Pure Gasoline
Regulations established by the Environmental Protection Agency for implementation of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 call for increases in ethanol gasoline production to 36 billion gallons by 2022. During the first year of the act’s implementation, the level of production was only 9 billion gallons. This caused ethanol production to skyrocket.
If trends continue, availability of ethanol-free gas is going to keep decreasing. By 2022, finding pure gas in the United States will be a difficult challenge.
The possible exception to this would be if there's a change in political climate or if they decrease the mandate of the Renewable Fuels Standard. Lowering the required yearly volume would create more space in the marketplace for ethanol-free gas.
Counteracting Ethanol Problems
Fortunately, consumers can take steps to counteract the bad effects of ethanol by using high-quality fuel system additives that have no ethanol or alcohol of any kind in them. Products are available for small engines, boat engines, car engines, and most any type of gasoline internal combustion engine.
This post was published on March 31, 2014 and was updated on April 15, 2021.