Consumer Reports Looks at E85

In its October 2006 issue, Consumer Reports magazine looks at E85 Ethanol and the FFVs (Flexible Fuel Vehicles) that can use it. Unfortunately the full online version of the article is only available to subscribers. However, you can view a preview.

The general tone of the article is skeptical. Here are some of the key points:

  • The way FFVs are currently accounted for in the CAFE standards probably lets auto manufacturers put out more lower mileage gasoline vehicles than are really offset by FFVs.
  • E85 is only available at about 800 gas stations nationwide (out of 176,000). Converting to add E85 can cost $200,000 in tanks and pumps. (A $30K tax credit helps.)
  • While E85 does reduce Nitrogen Oxide emissions (a greenhouse gas) over gasoline, there are other emissions unique to E85. Nonetheless E85 is a net win on emissions.
  • Current E85 production from corn competes with feed corn use, and would probably drive up the costs of some foods (e.g., beef). Cellulose-based ethanol may be a better alternative.

The bottom line:

It’s more likely that ethanol will be only one in a portfolio of choices that include biodiesel, diesel, electric, hydrogen, natural-gas, and efficient gasoline cars.

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