There is a hidden danger in the use of E-85 fuel (fuel that is made up of 85% ethanol) that hasn’t been publicized and will become a serious problem in the future as its use spreads. That is that ethanol readily mixes with water. Environmentally conscious consumers will fill their tanks with E-85 in vehicles not designed for its use and an ethanol fire can’t be extinguished with the foam that is normally used by firefighters to put out gasoline fires. These issues are surely destined to weigh heavily in the future.
First is the fact that ethanol is water soluble. Ethanol is exactly like the alcohol that one uses to make an alcoholic beverage. Take a glass of cola and pour alcohol into it and it mixes easily. Thake the same cola and try pouring some gasoline into it and you will have a film on top of the cola that won’t mix and can be easily skimmed off. This distinction is important when it comes to fuel spills in waterways and standing water such as ponds. The ethanol will just dissolve into the water and can’t be cleaned up by normal methods of skimming and the use of absorbent pads placed on top of the water. How will emergency crews handle these situations? That is yet to be determined but we see no easy answer or viable solution.
Second and of even more critical importance is the use of E-85 in vehicles that aren’t designed for E-85. This is a serious safety hazard. E-85 fuel will erode through the o-rings and gaskets in vehicles not specifically designed for E-85 usage. A Kansas firefighter training in these issues reported that he sat across the street from an E-85 fuel station and observed multiple drivers in older vehicles not equipped for E-85 usage filling their tanks in a misguided effort to be environmentally conscious. The result can be devastating fires due to the erosion of gaskets and o-rings that seal the high pressure fuel systems and keep them from leaking. These fuel systems run very high pressures and a failed seal such as an o-ring or gasket can and often does result in severe vehicle fires. Imagine the possible outcome if that fire started in your garage at home, inside a repair facility, or inside a parking garage. The results could not only involve extensive property damage but could also endanger lives.
Third is the fact that the foam commonly used to extinguish gasoline fires won’t work on ethanol fires. The alcohol breaks down the bubbles in the foam and can cause a regular fire on the ground to create a potentially dangerous explosion. As of yet, most fire fighting agencies do not have the special foam that is needed because it is 30% more expensive than the foam currently in use to fight petroleum based fires.
Please keep these facts in mind and ensure that you don’t use E-85 in a vehicle that is not designed for it.
Source: Automotive Body Repair News