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Alternative Energy: Is an E85 Conversion Worth It?

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E85 is usually less expensive than regular gasoline, but is doing a conversion worth it? [Photo credit Carolina K. Smith MD /]
From solar and wind to portable generators and PowerPots, prepared folks are always curious about alternative energy sources. They can provide energy security when mainstream sources fail, and even cost savings in the long run.

One question that pops up quite a bit is that of E85 fuel for vehicles. This blend of 85% ethanol and 15% traditional gasoline offers an alternative when prices at the pump skyrocket. Ethanol is made from corn grown in the United States, insulating the commodity against foreign events, such as war or political unrest. Claims have also been made about E85's fuel efficiency.

That said, is it worth it to convert a vehicle from traditional gasoline to E85? One Living Ready reader, Clay Atnip, crunched the numbers for his conversion, then sent in the results. Here's what he determined.

Researching the E85 Conversion

From Atnip:

“I was researching switching my 2002 Ford Taurus SE Station Wagon E85. There are only a few differences between the regular and E85 version of my car: PCM, fuel injectors, ECU and different plugs. The gas lines, fuel pump, seals, rings and etcetera all have the same parts numbers from unleaded to E85. The myth that E85 will melt the fuel system of a non-E85 vehicle is a myth.

“The cost of putting E85 parts on my car was high, too high to consider.

“I researched E85 converters that plug into your injectors. They ran about $400 for kits that are completely automatic and sense the octane and alcohol level, to $200 for kits that have a sliding switch on the side to manually adjust the setting ‘by ear.'”

The Verdict: E85 Conversion Not Worth It

“I then researched the ‘savings' I would get from E85 and how long it would take me to pay off the conversion kit from the ‘savings.'

“There aren't any. You don't save money by switching to E85. My Taurus gets an average of 19 mpg on unleaded and 14 mpg on E85. That's a loss of about 30%.

“Currently E85 prices versus unleaded prices locally are a difference of 3%. Do the math, there are no savings there.

“I had read that you can produce your own ethanol for $0.75 per gallon. However, building an ethanol still is even more expensive. Buying a pre-built one can cost $10,000 to $19,000. Even if you have the plans and build it yourself the cost can be high.”

An Alternative to the E85 Conversion

Atnip then looked at ways to increase fuel efficiency without a lot of work. Here are his tips:

Ever Attempted an E85 Conversion?

What do you think of this experiment? Ever attempted an E85 conversion for yourself? Leave a comment below.

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