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E85 ethanol fuel demand grows as gas prices soar

Only Flex Fuel vehicles can use E85 fuel, but it could save some significant dollars for those drivers by switching. That's even with lower gas mileage.

BELDING, Mich. — Gas prices in Michigan are averaging $5.17 a gallon, according to Gas Buddy. E85 ethanol fuel, however, has a national average of $3.65 a gallon, according to E85prices.com.

That increase in gasoline prices has caused demand for E85 fuel to soar. Robert White, the VP of Industry for the Renewable Fuels Association, said in California, demand could double for triple for E85 volume this year. 

"If people don't know what the 85 Flex Fuel is, they're learning quickly," said White, "Because the marquees and the pumps are telling them something's different. 'What do I need to do to use this fuel?'"

The U.S. Department of Energy also has noticed the appeal, saying, "As gasoline prices increase, alternative fuels appeal more to vehicle fleet managers and consumers. Like gasoline, alternative fuel prices can fluctuate based on location, time of year, and political climate."

Not all vehicles can burn E85, however, only Flex Fuel vehicles. Look for the yellow caps on the gas cap, or read the instruction manual. You can also look up vehicles that use E85 here.

"It's a domestic product that's also renewable," said White, "We can make all the ethanol we need over and over again. It's something we don't have to go to foreign countries for."

Heffron Farms in Belding is one of the many growers of corn in Michigan that supply the product to ethanol producers. In fact, Dennis Heffron said they use E85 as much as they can on the farm to save money. 

"When we get E85 delivered here," said Heffron, "it might even be out of our grain for all we know."

Heffron said four out of five of their trucks are flex fuel, and they are not new vehicles. Using E85 in the trucks saves the farm quite a bit of money. 

One downside to E85 is lower gas mileage. However, White said with current prices, Flex Fuel vehicle owners are still saving money even when taking the fuel economy penalty into consideration. 

"It’s all local," said Heffron, "We aren't sending any of our money oversees, we’re not fighting any wars over it."

For Heffron, his rule on the farm is to get E85 fuel when it is at least 40 cents cheaper than regular gasoline. 

"I see it posted around as much as a buck and a quarter or more less than regular gas," said Heffron. 

White is also an advocate for E85 gas, due to ethanol fuel being a renewable resource and better for the environment. 

"Ethanol has a 46% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions," said White, "So, just the environment alone, it's a very powerful fuel for the environment. And that goes as far as the water in the soil, because it's biodegradable. If there ever was an accident, unlike the large spills and cleanups we've seen with petroleum and gasoline."

According to White, Flex Fuel vehicles can use regular gasoline and E85 interchangeably. 

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