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E85 is a usable fuel that is made from a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% unleaded gasoline. E85 is designed for use in flexible fuel vehicles, or vehicles with an engine designed to run on any blend of ethanol up to 85%. As of 2006, the U.S. Department of Energy classifies it as an alternative fuel.
There are many benefits to this fuel, including the primary source of ethanol used in the blend. Corn is the most common source, which makes it a renewable resource. In addition, the fuel is high-performance, clean burning and environmentally friendly.
Although e85 is not as common as unleaded gasoline, it is becoming more widely used, especially in the Midwest where corn crops are plentiful. Many major motor vehicle manufacturers, including Daimler Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Isuzu, and Nissan, have been manufacturing flexible fuel vehicles since as early as 1999 and the number has been increasing each year. The potential for decreased dependency on crude oil is one reason the use of e85 is being closely watched. It is not difficult for retail gasoline stations to convert to e85 and there are an increasing number of stations that offer the fuel. Though gas mileage is reduced by 10 to 15% with the use of the fuel, the price has traditionally been lower than unleaded gasoline, by as much as US$0.80 per gallon (about 3.8 liters) thus far.
The biggest hurdle the industry faces is increased awareness and availability. Although flexible fuel is an option that can be ordered with a new vehicle at little or no extra cost, many people are not aware that their newer vehicles are e85 compatible. Check your vehicle owner's manual to see if you have a flexible fuel vehicle. If your manual does not state you can use this fuel, it is not compatible. If you are in the market for a new vehicle, the flexible fuel option may prove a sensible choice if available.