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What is E85?

By Jeanette Joy Fisher

If you watched the Olympics, you probably noticed that General Motors launched a major advertising campaign, touting the fact that 1.5 million GM vehicles are able to run on E85, made from corn. If you're new to the alternative fuel concept, perhaps you were left wondering exactly what E85 is.

The term E85 is derived from the blend of two different fuels, comprised of 85% ethanol (where the term E85 comes from) and 15% petroleum. E85 is able to be used by vehicles that are known as flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs). So what's the big deal, and why is GM willing to spending many millions of dollars to let people know their vehicles will run on E85?

Ethanol is an exciting concept, since it can be made from virtually any type of starchy plant, including sugar cane, wheat, canola, or milo. However, most American ethanol is produced from corn, which is grown in huge abundance in the Midwest. It could represent a perfect union between farmers and consumers, since it will give farmers a steady, reliable outlet for their corn and it will provide motorists with a cleaner, less expensive fuel that doesn't rely on foreign suppliers.

But that's just the beginning. E85 also helps reduce a vehicle's exhaust and greenhouse gas emissions, since it has higher oxygen content. That means it's burned more completely than conventional gas, making it more environmentally friendly than petroleum-based fuels. In fact, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) statistics suggest that E85 produces some 40% less carbon monoxide and 15% less production of other pollutants that contribute to smog.

Those figures should be enough to get people excited about E85's prospects. It's also promising that a huge automaker like GM has chosen to spend large amounts of its advertising dollars to bring the concept of green vehicles and fuel into the mainstream consciousness, and they're to be commended. It represents a major first step toward freeing America from dependence upon foreign oil, as well as lowering greenhouse pollutants and providing American farmers with a new, profitable, stable avenue for selling their crops. It seems to be a winning proposition for everyone involved.

Not surprisingly, E85 is most readily available in the Upper Midwest, where the majority of the corn to make it is grown. Some 400 of the 600 locations nationally are located in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and South Dakota.

Copyright 2006 Jeanette J. Fisher

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