The 2006 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season opener was the GM Flex Fuel 250 held at Daytona Beach February 17. For Team Chevy fans, the only two trucks in the field that counted were Ron Hornaday Jr. in the #33 Silverado and Dennis Setzer driving the new E85 Silverado. We'll begin our story on flex-fuel performance with the E85 Silverado's graphics. Emblazoned across the bright yellow and green hood is the phrase "Corn Fed." Judging by the sponsors NASCAR racers have, one might wonder what exactly they mean by corn fed. Does Mark Martin dump Viagra in the tank of his Nextel Cup car or Scotts Miracle-Gro in his Craftsman truck for octane booster? It's extremely unlikely, but there's no doubt in our minds the E85 Silverado could race on E85. Is this the same E85 ethanol we have all been hearing about on the TV news at night when alternative fuels come up? Yes, and before you get turned off by the subject, let us explain that E85 comes right out of the pump rated at 105 octane.

We thought that might get your attention, but of course there might be some of you, regardless of how much octane the stuff has, who might not be willing to accept burning E85 in a customized old truck. We understand, it's the same kind of panic we all felt when they removed the lead antiknock compound from premium gasoline.

But things are a little different this time around. Instead of having to detune our motors with lower compression ratios, we can actually bump up the compression and reap good public relations in the process. In addition to taking advantage of E85's 105 octane to produce more horsepower, ethanol is sulphur neutral, which translates into producing less greenhouse gases than pure petroleum-based fuels. Naturally, there are two schools of thought on this aspect of ethanol, but we'll leave that to the people who like to argue about that kind of stuff. There's one thing we know for sure: less sulfuric acid forming in an engine's crankcase means less engine wear and being able to run the same oil for longer intervals. So as one can see, the positive effects begin to snowball. Less wear means the engine burns less oil, and fewer oil changes translates into less polluted oil the environment has to deal with.

Sure, there are some modifications that will have to be made, but isn't making modifications to increase performance what customized classic trucks are all about? Instead of installing hardened seats to compensate for lead's lack of lubrication, there are other considerations that have to be taken into account regarding ethanol. The first is that while not as caustic as methanol, ethanol is corrosive. Starting with the truck's gas tank, the original steel tank has to be replaced with either a polyethylene or high-grade stainless steel tank. Since most people opt to remove the stock gas tank from their cab and relocate it to a safer spot with a custom fabricated tank, this is not a big deal. Next in line (not to make a pun) are the fuel lines. Again, since few people retain the aged stock parts and have already replaced the lines with stainless steel, the only thing to double check is if the rubber lines are compatible with ethanol (this can be verified with the manufacturer).

The next issue to address is the engine's induction. Cars and trucks that can run pure unleaded gas up to unleaded gas mixed with up to 85 percent ethanol are called flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs). From the factory their fuel-injected engines are equipped with an optical sensor (photo cell) in the fuel line that senses the presence of ethanol and enriches the fuel mixture up to 35 percent with the aid of a computer. To run E85 in a carbureted engine the jetting (fuel mixture) has to be 35 percent richer than it was for unleaded gasoline. This means a carbureted engine has to be dedicated to running E85. There have been rumors that Rochester will introduce a version of their computer-controlled Quadrajet four-barrel carburetor as part of a retrofit E85 system for older high-performance V-8s, but as we said, it's only a rumor.

The folks at Flex Fuel U.S. have announced there's hope for vehicles equipped with fuel-injected engines built after 1995. For classic trucks running a fuel-injected transplant engine, Flex Fuel U.S.'s setup promises to simplify converting an old truck into an FFV. When we spoke with Flex Fuel U.S. regarding the operating system they're using for their E85 retro-fit conversion, they explained they were in the middle of the patenting process and couldn't reveal how it works. They did mention their product is unique from existing approaches, and as soon as the patents are pending we'll have an update.

For high-performance enthusiasts as well as non, the concerns in this day and age are fuel mileage and cost. In the early years FFVs were adapted to store and burn E85 without encountering corrosion problems, but the engines weren't tuned to optimize for E85. Even with a 50 cent per gallon federal subsidy bringing E85 well below the price of regular unleaded, non-optimized engines delivering less fuel mileage cost slightly more to operate. The technology to improve E85 fuel mileage and performance since then has made major gains.

A good example comes from General Motors' Swedish subsidiary Saab. The Saab 9-5 2.0 BioPower illustrates the horsepower that can be made from an E85-optimized engine. The new Saab cranks out more horsepower and performance when it's running on E85 than on unleaded regular gasoline. The Saab's turbo motor produces 180 brake horsepower with E85, and 150 bhp on gasoline. On top of a 20 percent increase in maximum horsepower, 16 percent more torque is produced with E85 over conventional unleaded gasoline. The Saab senses the presence of E85 with an optical sensor in the fuel line that recalibrates and adjusts to accommodate the different timing characteristics and fuel/air mixture requirements. Saab says the new turbo flex-fuel engine improves fuel consumption under mid- to high-load driving because fuel enrichment for engine cooling is no longer necessary.

A new Saab probably sounds foreign to most of CCT's readers, so we will focus our story on something more pertinent to V-8-powered custom trucks, the Vanguard E85 Power Shootout held in conjunction with the Automotive Engine Rebuilders Association (AERA) 2006 RPM trade show August 30-September 1 at the Indiana Convention Center, where engine performance will be measured in three ways: horsepower, torque, and fuel consumption.

The title sponsor of the event is Engine Builder Magazine. Before this issue went to press we spoke with Engine Builder's editor Doug Kaufman regarding the future of retrofitting earlier American V-8s to operate on E85, and things sound pretty good. The engine rebuilding industry is well aware of E85, and AERA member aftermarket parts manufacturers as well as engine rebuilders are gearing up to meet the challenge. This is great news for guys searching for a custom-built V-8 in their classic truck that will deliver better fuel mileage in addition to extra horsepower. Since this is the first year for the E85 Power Shootout, the six competing engines will be dedicated to E85, but hopefully next year the event will expand to include Flex-Fuel motors. It would be a real eye-opener for everyone to see a toe-to-toe comparison of the two fuels.

E85's main ingredient is ethanol by 85 percent, or to put it into terms more familiar to high-performance freaks, alcohol. The remaining 15 percent is composed of regular unleaded gasoline. Blend the two together and you have the high-performance fuel of the future.

Contrary to the impression one might get from GM's "Live Green, Go Yellow" campaign, ethanol can be obtained from many sources other than corn alone. At the Regional Transportation Center in Chula Vista, California, it's the cheese. The ethanol mixed in the RTC's E85 comes from cheese whey distilled by the Golden Cheese Company of Corona, California. The truth of the matter is, anything that ferments can be turned into cellulosic automotive-grade ethanol. The following is an excerpt from a report on ethanol generated by the state of California almost 10 years ago:

"While most ethanol currently is produced from corn, it can be produced from agricultural waste, forest waste, and other types of 'biomass.' An increase in ethanol use in California could stimulate the formation of businesses that convert these waste products to ethanol. Because some agriculture and forest wastes are burned, air-quality improvements could occur in some areas if these wastes were instead converted to ethanol."

The most surprising source of automotive-grade ethanol originates from reclaiming millions of gallons of beer waste that would otherwise be poured into the sewer. Here's an excerpt from the Denver Post:

"Coors Brewing Company is doubling its current production of 1.5 million gallons of ethanol per year from beer waste by adding a second ethanol processing plant at its Aurora, Colorado, brewery. The ethanol is sold under a contract with Valero Energy Corp., which distributes the ethanol to Diamond Shamrock stations."

As far as we know, Colorado is currently the only state with a brewery that isn't dumping millions of gallons of beer waste down the drain. From Wisconsin to the West Coast there are countless breweries. In California there's Miller Brewing and Anheuser-Busch, just to name a couple. One can only imagine how many million gallons of beer waste have already been poured into California's sewers instead of recycling to fill the gap created by the switch from MTBE to ethanol as an oxygenate.

Now that you have a better idea where E85 comes from, we'll tell you where you can find it. Minnesota leads the nation with well over 200 stations that sell E85. There are just 11 states in the U.S. that don't sell E85. California is at the bottom of the barrel with only one station to serve a population that exceeds 35 million people and spans 1,000 miles.

So there you have it in a nutshell, CCT readers. With the presence of 10 percent ethanol (E10) already in North America's fuel supply and likely to grow to E20, we thought you guys might like a heads up on the future. It's good news for everyone since most custom classic trucks are already equipped with aftermarket fuel tanks that can handle ethanol. We figured with the ever-looming threat of the smog Nazis trying to legislate vintage trucks off the road, we could get the jump on them by converting to E85 and make a bunch of extra horsepower doing it.

To learn more about E85 or to find out if you can buy it in your state, log onto www.e85fuel.com.

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