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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Comments
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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

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