By now, everyone has heard of E85 and E100; you probably even fill your car with E10. But what is ethanol? Where does it come from? And what can it do for you?
Ethanol is alcohol derived from plant material, usually corn. Corn is easy to grow, grows quickly, and grows in bulk. In addition, the Midwest has been growing corn in recent years just to acquire government subsidized corn money. The sugar content of corn is insanely high, making it a great candidate for creating alcohol, whiskey anyone? If you don't like drinking moonshine, you can dump it in your tank instead.
Some of the negatives surrounding ethanol include poor gas mileage, shorter life on fuel pumps and fuel lines, and the hazard of getting water mixed in with your fuel. Because ethanol needs more fuel to create the same power as gasoline, your vehicle consumes a lot more ethanol, sometimes reducing mileage by thirty percent. On top of not having the same burn rate as gasoline, ethanol pretty much hates everything your car is made out of. It eats rubbers, plastics, and seems to consume paint like acetone. On that same note, ethanol loves what your car hates, water. Gasoline and water don't mix, diesel and water don't mix either, they separate. which makes it pretty convenient if you get water in your fuel system, since you can just drain the water as it sinks to the bottom. Ethanol, however, seems to drink water! If you take a cup of water and a cup of E85 and mix the two, you will never get them to separate. This becomes an issue when you try to burn the ethanol/water combo since water does not burn.
The benefits? If fuel economy isn't a priority, and you are careful enough to not get water in your gas, you can experience the amazing benefits of ethanol; The power, lots of it. Ethanol has a much higher octane rating, allowing timing to become significantly advanced. Ethanol also burns cooler, meaning you get cooler cylinder temps which increases volume, which in-turn means more fuel, and more power. Just as an example, the FA20 engine has been proven to gain around twenty five ponies with just E85 and an off the shelf tune. Add some forced induction, and you can push it even further. In addition to being able to create more power, you can make that power cheaper. Instead of spending a few Benjamins on race gas, you can fill up on E100 for a fraction of the cost. Meaning more track time, more money for tires, and you may even be able to buy your wife some flowers.
Ethanol has its positives and its negatives. While I don't think it has a place for the every day on road driver, it surely has a place for the hardcore car enthusiast. It’s cheap, makes lots of power, and even smells pretty good coming out of a screaming racecar.
So where can Ethanol take you? A better lap time? One more race this year? Or just the satisfaction of having a badass corn fed monster?