E85 Ethanol Fuel: How to Corn Your Way to More Horsepower

If you hear people talking about E85 like it’s some sort of magic bullet, that’s because it kind of is.

E85 is, of course, the high-ethanol blend of gasoline available in many areas of the country. Its elevated ethanol content makes its relative octane rating extremely high, which in turn means that it’s highly knock resistant.

The downside is that the ethanol blend actually has slightly less specific energy content than gasoline, so you have to use a lot of it–flip ahead to this issue’s Fuel Tips for more E85 talk. But that downside also comes with a hidden upside: Because of the additional volume of fuel, combined with the natural latent heat of evaporation properties of ethanol versus gasoline, E85 typically also lowers engine temperatures. And although you need to use about 20% to 30% more E85 than gasoline (don’t forget that the E85 makes more power than gasoline), it’s wicked cheap in our experience–cheap enough to warrant the benefits, especially in a track car.

But switching from gasoline to E85 is technically challenging, right? Especially on a modern car? And it will also melt all of your fuel lines and burn right through the floor of the car and down through the earth, like you just shot an alien. Right?

Uh, no.

Yes, E85 has some specific properties that can make it less compatible with older fuel systems containing a lot of butyl rubber. But pretty much anything built since the turn of the century is designed to deal with some level of ethanol in fuels already, as it’s a common additive in many parts of the country in smaller amounts.

So, hardware-wise, your late-model car is probably fine, but how about the software? Well, that’s where Advanced Fuel Dynamics comes in. Its Proflex Commander setup is a quick bolt-on (we installed one on our C5 Corvette in less than 45 minutes), which requires no additional tuning before your car can start drinking that sweet, sweet corn-based fuel.

Advanced Fuel Dynamics has plug-and-play kits for more than a dozen makes, including lots of popular models. The Ford Mustang; Chevrolet Camaro and Corvette; several BMW models; and tons more cars are on the list, and more are coming. (Including, hopefully, the Miata. Yes, we suggested it. You’re welcome.)

We did a little more analysis of the product when we installed it in a chapter of Project Ultimate Corvette, but the short version is that we gained nearly 20 wheel horsepower after swapping injectors, hooking up the Advanced Fuel Dynamics piggyback, and pouring in some convenience store E85.

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SavageHunter11
SavageHunter11 New Reader
5/22/20 9:10 a.m.

"Including, hopefully, the Miata. Yes, we suggested it. You’re welcome." 

You guys really are the best...

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/22/20 9:19 a.m.
SavageHunter11 said:

"Including, hopefully, the Miata. Yes, we suggested it. You’re welcome." 

You guys really are the best...

Aww, shucks. Credit JG for that bit of diplomacy. 

californiamilleghia
californiamilleghia Dork
5/22/20 9:41 a.m.

does anything happen when E85 gets on your hands  or paint job etc 

there is not much E85 around here.....

chaparral
chaparral Dork
5/22/20 9:42 a.m.

Your test of fuels showed that methanol is best of all - I think a very hardware-light methanol-specific engine build could give some startling performance, either with a very high static compression ratio or a nonintercooled forced induction system.

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
5/22/20 10:47 a.m.
chaparral said:

Your test of fuels showed that methanol is best of all - I think a very hardware-light methanol-specific engine build could give some startling performance, either with a very high static compression ratio or a nonintercooled forced induction system.

Yeah, but if I remember correctly it used a staggering amount of fuel for a small increase. 

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
5/22/20 11:17 a.m.

In reply to z31maniac :

Not to mention the fact that methanol burns almost completely clear, making it a little hard to tell if it's on fire.

 

captdownshift (Forum Supporter)
captdownshift (Forum Supporter) UltimaDork
5/22/20 10:42 p.m.

And if it'll work on the Miata, it'll work on BP powered BG chassis cars as well

frenchyd
frenchyd PowerDork
5/22/20 11:13 p.m.
californiamilleghia said:

does anything happen when E85 gets on your hands  or paint job etc 

there is not much E85 around here.....

It's gasoline and alcohol. Neither are good  on your skin .  
E85 isn't at every gas pump but there is likely a whole lot more than you think.  There are apps for finding it. 

frenchyd
frenchyd PowerDork
5/22/20 11:21 p.m.
z31maniac said:
chaparral said:

Your test of fuels showed that methanol is best of all - I think a very hardware-light methanol-specific engine build could give some startling performance, either with a very high static compression ratio or a nonintercooled forced induction system.

Yeah, but if I remember correctly it used a staggering amount of fuel for a small increase. 

Ethanol and methanol are two different alcohols. Ethanol is in beer wine and booze. 
Methanol if you drink  and first you go blind then you die.
 Indy has been using ethanol for a long time now. 

power gain is totally dependent on what  you are using it for.  High compression? Boost?  Gains can easily exceed  30% maybe more. 

When I use E85 in my Ford. It costs me about 2 mpg from 22 down to 20mpg.

Sprint cars and drag racers will use as much as 50% more to make the extra 30+% horsepower gain. 

chaparral
chaparral Dork
5/24/20 9:49 p.m.

In reply to Colin Wood :

You can't see it but the entire CART pit lane knew instantly when there was a big fire. It's harder to ignite than gasoline, and is extinguished by mixing it with water. The back of the pitwall had dozens of five-gallon buckets to throw.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/27/20 10:19 a.m.

For some more talk about methanol, check out our latest Fuel Tips

chaparral
chaparral Dork
5/27/20 1:13 p.m.

Yes. CART engines didn't need intercoolers because the methanol's evaporation got the plenum air temperature down to ambient. 

Methanex's bulk price for methanol is <$1.00/gallon. Since there aren't any additives needed, why can't I get it for less than five bucks a gallon?

Larger injectors will be needed, and tuning will have to be done, but the two reasons not to run it in a race are "it's banned" and "we can't get a big enough tank in the car to finish" -  are there any more?

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
5/27/20 4:30 p.m.
captdownshift (Forum Supporter) said:

And if it'll work on the Miata, it'll work on BP powered BG chassis cars as well

Maybe. Maybe not. There are a lot of Miatas that don't have BP-related engines :) Every one produced in the past 15 years, for example. And if it's interacting with anything other than the injectors themselves, you'll get into the question of how ignition timing is controlled.

So this thing looks like it's reading the ethanol content of the fuel and then extending injector pulse width appropriately. Yes? There must be some sort of timing shenanigans going on as well to actually get more power. I like the fact that it has a sensor, that's important because E85 can actually be E70.

If you REALLY want to benefit from E85, you need to put that engine under pressure.

frenchyd
frenchyd PowerDork
5/27/20 4:38 p.m.

In reply to chaparral :

First reason not to use methanol is it will kill you. On your skin it's evaporating really fast so it will feel cool. But it's being absorbed too and that's tough on your organs.  Cancer and other bad words tough. 
breathing methanol will also do bad things to your lungs. 

Second  ethanol can be drunk ( pun intended) whiskey whine beer all have ethanol in them. 

Methanol  on the other hand, first you go blind and then you die if you drink it. Both methanol and ethanol are alcohol  one is safe,  one is death. 

Methanol  fires are invisible. The first time you notice it may be when your burning skin adds a little smoke to the fire.    E85 the flame is visible. 

Paul_VR6 (Forum Supporter)
Paul_VR6 (Forum Supporter) Dork
5/27/20 9:40 p.m.
chaparral said:

Yes. CART engines didn't need intercoolers because the methanol's evaporation got the plenum air temperature down to ambient. 

Methanex's bulk price for methanol is <$1.00/gallon. Since there aren't any additives needed, why can't I get it for less than five bucks a gallon?

Larger injectors will be needed, and tuning will have to be done, but the two reasons not to run it in a race are "it's banned" and "we can't get a big enough tank in the car to finish" -  are there any more?

You can get methanol that cheap but won't be "fuel grade" you will have to filter it and remove water. I think about $6/gallon is about as cheap as I have seen useable methanol. 

Twice the fuel system flow as gasoline, which may or may not be easy. Most of the reason not to use it is that for the same race, you need twice the fuel, and it's not light. When you are going 1/4 mi its no big deal. 24 hrs it gets thirsty. 

I have been using VP M1, VP M5 and some custom blends for years. I use full PTFE lined hoses, appropriate hardened fuel rail and fuel fittings, all PTFE seals, and all stainless internal injectors. It adds up quickly, but the M5 was a 30whp gain (~10%) over pump E85 measuring 82% ethanol with no other changes.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
5/27/20 9:41 p.m.

I notice there is a conspicuous lack of emissions information on the product website. Product support may not be available over the long term.

alfadriver (Forum Supporter)
alfadriver (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/28/20 6:45 a.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

With regard to?  On road or off road?  Assuming there's no lead, race only fuel is rather open in what is allowed.  For on road, the effects of E85 and the relative changes is pretty well known.  

Curtis73 (Forum Supporter)
Curtis73 (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/28/20 8:25 a.m.
californiamilleghia said:

does anything happen when E85 gets on your hands  or paint job etc 

there is not much E85 around here.....

That's one of my future plans... when we get more e85 around here.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
5/28/20 8:44 a.m.
alfadriver (Forum Supporter) said:

In reply to Keith Tanner :

With regard to?  On road or off road?  Assuming there's no lead, race only fuel is rather open in what is allowed.  For on road, the effects of E85 and the relative changes is pretty well known.  

It's clearly being sold for road car use and is available to anyone with a credit card and an internet connection. Thus it is for road car use in the eyes of the EPA. The effects may be well known, but in order to sell this for road car use you need to prove it does not adversely affect emissions. Not wave your hands and say it's well known, but spend time in the lab and show the numbers. These guys are messing with the fuel and possibly the ignition system including replacing injectors, so they will need to provide that proof. They're even selling to California which means the ARB will also be interested.

The fact that they're not actively bypassing emissions controls will help, it puts them a little further down the line in terms of enforcement priority.

alfadriver (Forum Supporter)
alfadriver (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/28/20 9:25 a.m.

You mean the kit, ok,  Spot on.

frenchyd
frenchyd PowerDork
5/29/20 7:18 p.m.
Paul_VR6 (Forum Supporter) said:
chaparral said:

Yes. CART engines didn't need intercoolers because the methanol's evaporation got the plenum air temperature down to ambient. 

Methanex's bulk price for methanol is <$1.00/gallon. Since there aren't any additives needed, why can't I get it for less than five bucks a gallon?

Larger injectors will be needed, and tuning will have to be done, but the two reasons not to run it in a race are "it's banned" and "we can't get a big enough tank in the car to finish" -  are there any more?

You can get methanol that cheap but won't be "fuel grade" you will have to filter it and remove water. I think about $6/gallon is about as cheap as I have seen useable methanol. 

Twice the fuel system flow as gasoline, which may or may not be easy. Most of the reason not to use it is that for the same race, you need twice the fuel, and it's not light. When you are going 1/4 mi its no big deal. 24 hrs it gets thirsty. 

I have been using VP M1, VP M5 and some custom blends for years. I use full PTFE lined hoses, appropriate hardened fuel rail and fuel fittings, all PTFE seals, and all stainless internal injectors. It adds up quickly, but the M5 was a 30whp gain (~10%) over pump E85 measuring 82% ethanol with no other changes.

I like cheap. E85  from a pump is many dollars a gallon cheaper than buying race gas by the drum. On a short 20 lap race  I can add  three gallons or about 21 pounds without any real weight penalty. 

 But LeMons or Champ Car racing with 5 minute minimum pit stops that adds a couple extra laps per extra filling to a car that already has twice as many fuel stops to better mileage cars. If Instead of 10 MPG I'm. Getting 6-7  plus a 15 minute penalty. It means the car just can't be competitive even if it's stone reliable.   

 I've found through testing the highest content of ethanol is late in the fall when depending on what I buy can contain up to 86% ethanol and trace amounts of water. 

 

In the spring that same station/pump may be selling 46% ethanol &  8% water   

Because of the dangers of Methanol ( as compared to ethanol ) I won't touch that stuff.  Besides it's "octane " is 116 as compared to ethanol's 114.  That slight difference  is just not worth the added risk. 

On my Flex fuel truck I lose 2mpg going to and from work. But when it cost as much as 70 cents a gallon less  I still kept $5 a tank ful in my pocket. 

Paul_VR6 (Forum Supporter)
Paul_VR6 (Forum Supporter) Dork
6/1/20 6:29 a.m.
frenchyd said:

Because of the dangers of Methanol ( as compared to ethanol ) I won't touch that stuff.  Besides it's "octane " is 116 as compared to ethanol's 114.  That slight difference  is just not worth the added risk. 

Octane is just the anti-knock ability, there is also the cooling effect and BTU output at target AFR. Methanol wins for both of those. I understand the relative ease of using E85 (if pump E85 is available, we used to have it but it's no longer available and need to get it through race suppliers).

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
6/1/20 6:54 a.m.
frenchyd said:
Paul_VR6 (Forum Supporter) said:
chaparral said:

Yes. CART engines didn't need intercoolers because the methanol's evaporation got the plenum air temperature down to ambient. 

Methanex's bulk price for methanol is <$1.00/gallon. Since there aren't any additives needed, why can't I get it for less than five bucks a gallon?

Larger injectors will be needed, and tuning will have to be done, but the two reasons not to run it in a race are "it's banned" and "we can't get a big enough tank in the car to finish" -  are there any more?

You can get methanol that cheap but won't be "fuel grade" you will have to filter it and remove water. I think about $6/gallon is about as cheap as I have seen useable methanol. 

Twice the fuel system flow as gasoline, which may or may not be easy. Most of the reason not to use it is that for the same race, you need twice the fuel, and it's not light. When you are going 1/4 mi its no big deal. 24 hrs it gets thirsty. 

I have been using VP M1, VP M5 and some custom blends for years. I use full PTFE lined hoses, appropriate hardened fuel rail and fuel fittings, all PTFE seals, and all stainless internal injectors. It adds up quickly, but the M5 was a 30whp gain (~10%) over pump E85 measuring 82% ethanol with no other changes.

I like cheap. E85  from a pump is many dollars a gallon cheaper than buying race gas by the drum. On a short 20 lap race  I can add  three gallons or about 21 pounds without any real weight penalty. 

 But LeMons or Champ Car racing with 5 minute minimum pit stops that adds a couple extra laps per extra filling to a car that already has twice as many fuel stops to better mileage cars. If Instead of 10 MPG I'm. Getting 6-7  plus a 15 minute penalty. It means the car just can't be competitive even if it's stone reliable.   

 I've found through testing the highest content of ethanol is late in the fall when depending on what I buy can contain up to 86% ethanol and trace amounts of water. 

 

In the spring that same station/pump may be selling 46% ethanol &  8% water   

Because of the dangers of Methanol ( as compared to ethanol ) I won't touch that stuff.  Besides it's "octane " is 116 as compared to ethanol's 114.  That slight difference  is just not worth the added risk. 

On my Flex fuel truck I lose 2mpg going to and from work. But when it cost as much as 70 cents a gallon less  I still kept $5 a tank ful in my pocket. 

That's interesting. 

I know in Oklahoma, E85 is really E70. And it's E70 year round as that is what is guaranteed by law as the minimum content...........so that's all it ever is. Unless you go to one of the few stations that sell E100. But everything I've read says really past about E60 you aren't gaining much more power.

Paul_VR6 (Forum Supporter)
Paul_VR6 (Forum Supporter) Dork
6/1/20 8:14 a.m.

E50-E98 power difference depends a lot on what it's blended with. There are some interesting things that happen with lower ethanol content and unleaded, high octane gasoline. My highest "ethanol" pulls have been on VP E50 on naturally aspirated high compression, but on turbocharged E98/X98 would win (as intake temperatures are much higher).

frenchyd
frenchyd PowerDork
6/2/20 12:03 a.m.
Paul_VR6 (Forum Supporter) said:
frenchyd said:

Because of the dangers of Methanol ( as compared to ethanol ) I won't touch that stuff.  Besides it's "octane " is 116 as compared to ethanol's 114.  That slight difference  is just not worth the added risk. 

Octane is just the anti-knock ability, there is also the cooling effect and BTU output at target AFR. Methanol wins for both of those. I understand the relative ease of using E85 (if pump E85 is available, we used to have it but it's no longer available and need to get it through race suppliers).

That's why I put Octane in quotes.  Plus I've been working with some racers who are doing all sorts of interesting things with 98% ethanol. ( you need 2% of something to denature it so you you don't get hit with the booze  tax ) 

Most  interesting to me was a chemical ( escapes me at the moment)   that they had been using in F1 to enhance fuel mileage. Apparently in the right combination it would get near gasoline fuel mileage while still affording the cooling benefits of alcohol. 
Most  interesting was trace amounts of Nitro  from RC engine fuel. 
These were drag racers so I don't know the longer term consequences of their suggestions but they were pretty scientific about their approach. With air temps,  air density, coolant temps, etc. making no changes other than chemical composition.  
We aren't talking about massively faster but 2% of 15% nitro mix was a consistent .02 faster 1/4 mile time 
it's on U tube under fuel mixture changes. 

Paul_VR6 (Forum Supporter)
Paul_VR6 (Forum Supporter) Dork
6/2/20 8:33 a.m.

Been doing the nitro blending for a bit, you can get a feel for it going from VP M1 to VP M5 which has similar effects as 5% nitro in neat methanol. Things don't get interesting until 15% or more, in both speed and surprises.

 

I wouldn't fool with anything in E98 there is no magic bullet to get "gas" fuel mileage out of it at a stoichometric ratio, or even near.

frenchyd
frenchyd PowerDork
6/3/20 1:19 p.m.

In reply to Paul_VR6 (Forum Supporter) :

They were playing with RC fuel ( methanol based? ) with up to 15% nitro  and adding it to 98% ethanol.  

The object is to get a fuel acceptable to road racing. (E85 ). And achieve as much power as mildly modified cars have. Power in a can so to speak. 
I like their approach using a common Toyota engine  in a MGB and striving for consistency rather than flashy numbers.  
Frankly I don't know if they are optimizing timing and fuel mixture  or if the car is capable of self learning. 
Since the drag strip they run at is over in Wisconsin about an hour and a half away I'm tempted to go tomorrow night and watch and talk to them. 
Tuluene ( sp) is the chemical they are working with to increase fuel mileage.   As I understand it, it's a byproduct of coal Tar.  When I looked it up it scared the heck out of me. There are EPA warnings about it but went on to say that it's used in fingernail polish among other beauty products. and there are limits to exposure in beauty salons?  

I do remember decades ago they were using something like that to get better fuel mileage in Formula 1 before they standardized the fuel supplied. 

Paul_VR6 (Forum Supporter)
Paul_VR6 (Forum Supporter) Dork
6/3/20 1:37 p.m.

Yes RC fuel with nitro will be methanol based, and may also have oil. 

I don't see this doing anything worthwhile mixed into E98. I see gains with 5% nitro in methanol but I have to be looking for them (dyno or a consistent track day). Adding a 15% nitro blend methanol into gallons of E98 is in the hundredths/thousanths of a second type gain. 

Its all a slippery slope.. if you run E50 may as well run E85, if you run E85 may as well run E98, if you run E98 may as well run methanol, if you run methanol you may as well run some nitro, if some nitro is good throw the whole can in cool

My new setup for 50% nitro and if it survives it should be interesting.

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