Having recently acquired a 2006 Dodge Ram with a standard 4.7-liter V8, I thought I would do my part to help the environment by using E85 as my fuel of choice. Not only would I be sticking it to those in the Middle East who live off our greed for petroleum, I was warmed with the thought that I would be helping my fellow Americans in the heartland, farmers who work hard toiling away day in and day out making sure we have enough food. Not to mention the fact that using E85—which in the U.S. is made mainly from corn—might help put an end to the $1.3 billion the U.S. government spends each year in subsidies to pay farmers not to farm their lands and to make up the difference between market prices and the true cost of raising the crop—all while building upon our road to energy independence.
Like most roads, however, this one has a few potholes, some of which I learned firsthand. The most important is range. When I started using E85, I noticed the real-world implications of a 15% drop in overall travel range commonly associated with using E85, which cut my travel distance by more than 60 miles on a single tank of fuel. It’s not fun to watch your gas gauge drop precipitously when you’re riding along with less than a quarter-tank of fuel, which is what I had the displeasure of doing. Another major draw back is price. While I have found that E85 typically runs about a dime cheaper per gallon than regular unleaded, the benefits from an economical standpoint don’t add up. Sure, I save about 5% overall in the wallet, but I sacrifice 15% in the amount of highway I can traverse on the average tank of fuel… something seem out of balance here? Some have also argued that producing ethanol takes more energy than the fuel yields when compared to traditional gasoline. The U.S. Department of Energy denies this, although several scientists have published papers stating otherwise.
Regardless, I have made the conscious decision that if I have to sacrifice a few miles per tank even though I am saving significantly less, it’s more than worth it for my country and its future. Is E85 the silver bullet that will relieve our dependence on foreign oil? Of course not, but it is an alternative that could send a message to the world that we’re serious about taking responsibility for our own energy needs. It’s time for all of us to pitch in and help build this road to energy independence one mile at a time. We need to call on our leaders to bring on different alternatives beyond E85, including biodiesel, while also getting serious about building the hydrogen fuel infrastructure for the vehicles of tomorrow. If we don’t face our demons now, we’re likely to have to deal with them at a more inconvenient time with a plan that has been foisted upon us. I’d rather do things on my own terms, thank you very much.