Thursday, April 20, 2006

Maybe those Conspiracy Theorists are on to Something: the E85 Capers

I have a friend who is a drag racer and he is quite knowledgeable on the subject of engine building. Well, he has been ruminating about building an E85 engine for power. E85 is the ethanol blended fuel that we see quite a bit of here in Illinois; the fuel contains 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. The big three are producing E85 vehicles and they are touting them for their lower emissions. GM even has a green and yellow bus driving around the country telling us what good environmentalists they are. Some E85 vehicles are said to run horribly on the alternative fuel. My friend the drag racer has a friend whose Explorer ran so poorly on E85 that the Ford dealership told him that he should use gasoline. The problems are likely due to the higher compression ratios that are desirable in alcohol engines combined with the need for advanced ignition timing. My friend spent yesterday at a dyno shop working on a 429 Ford engine with 10.5/1 compression and a Holley carburetor modified for the use of alcohol. After some amount of messing around they got the engine tuned for horsepower, torque, drivability and economy. E85 is a less expensive fuel than gasoline. In addition to being less expensive the fuel is 105 octane and burns much cooler than gasoline, due to the fact that it does produce less power.

What struck my friend (and myself) as unusual was that Holley, the big aftermarket carburetor company, did not have an aftermarket set-up for E85. The engine builder said that when he called the Holley tech line that he was told that it is against the law to offer a complete E85 system. All of the needed parts were available to put the proper carburetor together, they just couldn’t be offered as a kit. Many racing applications use methanol, another alcohol, so the parts do exist. This possible legal issue struck me as strange so I called the tech line myself. I really got no response on the issue other than the fact that they do not have any E85 applications. The tech did offer that they have some very large drag race alcohol set-ups. He could not say whether there was a legal issue, in fact he wasn’t very familiar with E85 and asked if it was an alcohol application. The legal issue could have been a ruse to keep the engine builder from finding another supplier or going into the business himself. On the other hand if it is actually against the law to sell E85 conversion kits that would warrant some investigation; possibly of Jack Abramoff. It would also make SEMA question its lobbyists. That would be one heck of an insert: Americans cannot buy a conversion kit that enables them to use available fuels. I think that it’s more likely that there is not large enough of a market of motorists using that fuel; likely due to its limited availability. A fact that just gives a little more room for those conspiracy theorists.


Anonymous craig baker said...

I am running into the same problems myself I am intriuged by e-85 ,its cheap and cleaner burning but trying to get info can be difficult most people think its that super corrossive m-85 stuff . i want to build a high performance 2.3 ford daily driver that uses this stuff. Ive tried 50/50 mix of e85 and 87 oct gas in my regular 93 taurus with no ill effects so far' if anything it was like pouring in many bottles of iso heet to cleanout the system.

2:13 AM  
Blogger El Rider said...

From my friends comments I would advise anybody looking to build an E-85 engine to contact Holley or other performance outfits and inquire about alcohol applications for the carburetor that you will be using; there are a lot of alcohol/drag-race applications and that is how you want to go. Those applications would have fittings that will not degrade in alcohol. My friend was surprised at how well E-85 worked with the relatively low compression ratio of 10.5/1. If you can find some time on a dynamometer you should do it; that could alleviate a lot of potential problems and would allow you to set the engine up properly. A cheap way to access a dynamometer is to rent a shop for a day (or part of a day) with a number of friends. Good luck, I hope that it works for you!

8:12 AM  
Blogger El Rider said...

I should add that those "applications" are actually parts rather than an entire, easy to install applications. You will need to replace seals and fuel lines. Good luck.

8:14 AM  

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