It’s imperative Ford Motor Co. help dispel misconceptions about E85, a fuel mixture consisting of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, Sue Cischke, vice president-environmental and safety engineering, says.

There are several misconceptions and half-truths circulating in regards to E85’s potential and its drawbacks, Cischke says.

One common misunderstanding is E85 provides better fuel efficiency than gasoline. Rather, “there’s 28% less energy in ethanol, (and) you get less fuel economy,” Cischke says.

However, while it is true E85 is not as efficient as gasoline, Cischke says it doesn’t take more energy to produce the fuel than E85 returns, as some critics contend.

Another prevalent fallacy is there are too many obstacles to producing E85 in mass quantities.

“One minute you’re reading there’s not enough land in all the U.S. (to grow enough corn),” she says. “But we’re not making it all out of corn.

“Another argument is that it’s not right to take food and use it on fuel. But we’re using subsidies not to grow corn.

“An employee sent me a note saying (E85) uses too much water (to produce), and some say if you take all the wastes from the crops you’re not plowing it back into the ground and you’re making the ground less fertile,” Cischke says, dismissing the notions as unfounded speculation.

The price of E85 also is causing confusion. Due to a limited number of E85 refineries, the fuel currently costs more than 87-octane gasoline.

But, Cischke and other proponents of E85 are quick to point out that as more refineries come on line, the price will come down.

As the E85 infrastructure grows into its own, it has the benefit of the difficult lessons learned by the oil industry, Cischke says.

“One of the things I’m impressed about on the ethanol side is the agriculture people see opportunities to do co-ops and things and to manufacture 60 million gallons (227 million L) of fuel, as opposed to huge refineries where you get a hurricane and it wipes out a whole network,” Cischke tells Ward’s. “There may be a benefit of having a small network.”

Although Ford is pouring support and resources towards E85, it is not the only fuel-saving technology on the auto maker’s plate, Cischke says.

“It’s only one part of the solution. E85 as a fuel itself is only one renewable fuel. There’s more research going on in biodiesels, and our partners at BP (plc) are looking at other means.

“But (E85) is here today, and we can put (in) capital to get this out,” she says.

Ford is on track to build 250,000 E85-compatible vehicles this year and plans to double that in 2010.

bpope@wardsauto.com