E85 Is Too Expensive (in the Metro-East)

Prairie Gleanings

Driving a Flex Fuel vehicle for two weeks makes the problems with E85 quite apparent. You can't find it; and it's too expensive.

Published on: August 23, 2013

I’ve driven nearly 1,500 miles in the past two weeks.

To make two winding trips around the state of Illinois, I rented a Ford Focus. Since my personal car is a Nissan, I was excited about taking full advantage of the Flex Fuel component that comes with Ford automobiles.

Only one of the fuel stations along my travels offered E85. It was a station just a couple miles from my house. Since I was filling the car up before I returned it, I didn’t get a chance to see what sort of fuel economy reduction I would experience using E85.

According to this article by Edmonds, they experienced a 20% to 25% fuel economy reduction when driving a Chevy Tahoe between San Diego and Las Vegas.

I love Fords "no-cap" fuel port. No more forgetting to replace the fuel cap and having the check-engine light pop on as a result.
I love Ford's "no-cap" fuel port. No more forgetting to replace the fuel cap and having the check-engine light pop on as a result.

I paid $3.48/gallon for E85. Regular gasoline (E10) was going for $3.68 on the same day. Would I have come out ahead?

Using Edmonds 20% reduction, I would have expected my fuel economy to drop from roughly 33 mpg to 26.5 mpg. Problem is $3.48 is only a 5% reduction from $3.68.

To account for the reduced fuel economy, E85 would need to be priced just under $3 a gallon. Sorry, but a 20-cent reduction just isn’t cutting it.

According to this farmdocDaily article, my experience isn’t out of the ordinary. To date, E85 has typically been offered at a 5% to 15% discount to gasoline. It’s not enough to increase demand.

The University of Illinois article uses a 25% reduction in fuel mileage in its calculations. So, Edmunds is not out in left field on the fuel economy calculations.

I hope the pricing issue changes in the future. I enjoyed the Focus. The Sync system was terrific. Our next car could very well be a Ford Escape. (I really dig the redesign.)

But, if I’m going to drive a Flex Fuel vehicle, I need an economic reason to buy E85.

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  1. DK says:

    Same problem in northeastern Illinois corn and soybean country. The local Shell station sells E85 at 20 cents less than regular unleaded; not the 20 to 25% less that would make it economically feasible to buy. Basically they offered it; but, have it priced out of the market. I too have looked at E85.com, sort of the Gas Buddy of E85 and can find no station anywhere near me that does offer E85 at an appropriate discount to regular. The ads this past week in the Farm Bureau paper and Agri-News saying you grow it, you should burn it,

  2. Peter says:

    Josh - you were driving in Illinois - E85 is NEVER more than 10 or 15 cents less than gasohol. (Try buying straight gasoline anywhere now!) Yes - we need to use more ethanol, but the State of Illinois is not going to let that happen without getting more tax money from us.

  3. Carson Berger of www.energetixllc.com says:

    Josh -- I'd like to chime in on a few items you have pointed out in this post. First, where did you pay $3.48/gal for E-85 in Michigan? Currently every Meijer station on the west side of the state that offers the fuel at has it priced $2.99/gal. J&H stations have it priced around $2.79/gal and the Speedway stations in Lansing have it as low as $2.47/gal. You can check current E-85 prices at E85prices.com. These prices have been typical for the past 6 months or so. During this time gas has been as high as $4.15/gal. Second, there are a few smartphone apps available to locate the fuel. One being the "Flex Fuel Station Locator" app that provides a map of all the stations around you and naviagtes you to them. When E85 is over a dollar cheaper than gasoline it is definitely worth a little extra driving, and often times you don't have to go that far out of your way. You can download the app on your iphone at this link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/flex-fuel-station-locator/id419265327?mt=8 Third, you mentioned regular gasoline was E-15. This is not the case. Regular gasoline contains a maximum of 10% ethanol. E-15 is availble at a couple stations in the state, but it is clearly labeled and is a few cents cheaper than E10(regular) and its a couple octane points higher as well. Thanks for the post, I just wanted to clear up some items.

    • Josh Flint of www.prairiefarmer.com says:

      Carson, Great points! I purchased E85 in Shiloh, IL, which is considered a suburb of St. Louis. Being on the Illinois side, we tend to run a little more expensive of fuel. We're not quite in the same league as Chicago, but we're higher than many other places. I rented a Chevy Flex Fuel vehicle for the Farm Progress Show. So, I will download the app and do this experiment again. I'll post another blog detailing my results. Also, you are correct on E10. Thank you for pointing that out. I edited the article to reflect the correction.