The Cost of Using E85

Updated Jun 4, 2015

Ethanol-based gasoline is great for the environment, but is it good for your company’s bottom line?

By Bruce W. Smith

The price of fuel these days cuts deep into already tight business profit margins. So company owners and fleet managers are constantly trying to figure out the best move to slow the bleeding.

One method is price shopping. Fuel up where the price is the cheapest.

That’s why those who see the price of gas and the price of “E85” at the pump tend to grab the nozzle of the latter and drive away feeling good about their choice.

The price of E85 – a blend of 85% percent ethanol and 15% gasoline – varies widely from city to city, state to state, region to region.  But it generally costs about 12- to 18-percent less than regular unleaded.

This is attractive to those standing at the pump, especially contractors and landscapers who pile on the work miles, week after week. E85 is also very good for the environment.

The bad news is ethanol provides 30-percent less energy than gasoline so its equivalent cost-per-gallon compared to gasoline, according to the Department of Energy, is about $1 higher.

So when it comes to fuel economy, using E85 will reduce fuel economy by 4- to 5mpg and increase the cost-per-mile of driving your vehicle.

Calculating the cost is the only way to see if using E-85 is right for your company pickups.

For example, a 2013 Chevy Silverado 1500 4×4 FFV rated 15 city / 21 hwy on gasoline only gets 11 city / 16 hwy when using E85.

That’s a 27-percent decrease in fuel economy using E85. The same holds true for most flex-fuel vehicles.

Historical Look

Using ethanol as a fuel is not a new concept. Henry Ford figured out that pure grain alcohol was good for much more than being distributed in moonshiner’s Mason jars.

Back in the 1880s he developed a car to run on white lightening and later designed the Model T to run on either ethanol or gasoline.

Vehicle and fuel technology has changed a lot over the decades, but the process of producing ethanol hasn’t. Today’s E85 is the same basic stuff, fermented and distilled sugars made unfit for human consumption and then mixed with 15-percent gasoline.

How much is a contractor or landscaper willing to pay to be eco-friendly with fuel?  Only time – and the company’s bottom line – can answer that question.  – ProPickup