Ethanol and Engine Performance

Ethanol and Engine Performance 2 1

From Formula One to NASCAR to your daily drive, some blend of ethanol is used to fuel engines.

Since 2005, the amount of ethanol blended into gasoline has steadily increased from 2.8% to 10% in 2019. In the same amount of time, there have been numerous uninformed and unsubstantiated allegations regarding the effects ethanol has on engines.

Thankfully, there are automotive experts like Bobby Likis have publically denounced these allegations.

According to Likis, cars from 1981 onwards have no problems burning E10 fuel and that today’s vehicles and their rubber component parts are designed to operate efficiently on E10.

In fact, Likis says that not a single engine from the 175,000 cars and small trucks serviced by Bobby Likis Car Clinic Service in Pensacola has been damaged by ethanol. And when it comes to the fuel line and primer, he says ethanol is no worse than gasoline when proper storage guidelines are followed.

Moreover, Likis, points to the many benefits of using ethanol such as its high octane rating, ability to decrease deposits on intake valves and combustion chambers, alleviate starting or driving problems in hot or cold weather and the capability to withstand water contamination to a greater degree than gasoline.

In terms of its octane rating, ethanol has a rating of 113. Fuels with a higher octane rating reduce engine knocking and perform better than ones with lower ratings.

Thus, blending 10% of ethanol with 90% gasoline increases the octane rating of regular gasoline by two points. Since most the gasoline blendstock used has an octane rating of 85, ethanol is used to boost it to 87. As such, the higher the ethanol content, the higher the octane. For example, the octane rating for E15 and E85 is 88 and 108 respectively.

Thanks to ethanol, we no longer need to mix octane boosting additives that are harmful to the environment such as methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE).

Ethanol’s high octane content is also crucial in ensuring high compression engines run smoothly and with record high fuel prices over the last decade, more and more carmakers these days are replacing large naturally-aspirated engines with smaller displacement high compression turbocharged or supercharged engines which offer better fuel economy.

In light of that, ethanol will play a crucial role in the development of these engines while fuels with higher blends of ethanol will unlock the true potential of these engines.

Some OEMs have even used E85 to increase horsepower. Swedish carmaker, Koenigsegg, equipped its CCXR model with a 4.7-liter twin supercharged engine that can run on either E85 or E100. On normal gasoline, the CCXR produces 806 bhp. On E85, this is boosted to an amazing 1,018 bhp.

Ethanol’s high octane value and green advantages have also led ethanol to the world of motorsports. The cars in the 2012 Indy 500 ran on E85 while from 2011, NASCAR’s top three national series raced with Sunoco Green E15, which contains 15% ethanol. As at November 2013, over five million miles have been driven using Sunoco Green E15.