Is It OK to Use Ethanol for My Car?

Car Part World News

Jul 27th, 2021

Is It OK to Use Ethanol for My Car?

Innovation in the automotive world takes many forms. While mainstream attention is focused on things like electric vehicles, there’s also plenty of innovation happening in other frontiers. For instance, ethanol fuels have come a long way in reducing the harmful emissions produced by cars.

Ethanol fuel is a renewable fuel typically made from vegetable crops. You’ll usually find it blended with regular petrol at various concentrations, with E10 (10% ethanol) being the most common. Most cars produced after 1986 can run on ethanol E10 or at least E5 (5% ethanol). Always check your car’s fuel requirements before using any ethanol blend.

Keep on reading as we explore everything you need to know about ethanol fuel. We’ll look at what ethanol fuel is, how it's made, and what its pros and cons are.

Let’s get to it!

What Is Ethanol Fuel?

If you think that the term ‘ethanol’ sounds familiar, you’re right, it is! Ethanol is actually ethyl alcohol, and yes, it’s the same stuff you consume in your favourite alcoholic drinks or rub your hands with to fend off viruses.

Naturally, there are some differences. Ethanol fuel helps power engines, so the ethanol in your beer and the ethanol for cars are not exactly the same. Ethanol fuel is considered an alternative fuel because it’s made from ‘biomass’ or renewable plant-based materials.

Ethanol fuel is produced from common crops like sugarcane and corn, though the exact raw materials will depend on what’s readily and locally available.

The raw materials are then converted to ethanol fuel through fermentation. That means adding yeast to ferment the starch and sugars contained in the raw materials.

For example, a single bushel of corn (approx. 56 pounds) can produce 2.9 gallons of ethanol fuel.

Ethanol Fuel in Australia

In Australia, ethanol fuel is typically produced from molasses, grain sorghum, and waste wheat starch. But much like anywhere else globally, ethanol is rarely used in its pure form, even though it’s possible to run a car purely on ethanol fuel.

Instead, ethanol fuel is blended into regular petroleum to reduce the harmful emissions produced by the combustion process. 

This sort of blending is how all biofuels are generally used in motor vehicles. So, even biodiesel is used in blends rather than in pure form.

What Cars Can Run on Ethanol?

Generally, cars produced after 1986 can run on fuels blended with ethanol. The Australian Fuel Quality Standards allows for unleaded petrol to contain up to 10% ethanol.

Still, it's critical to remember that ethanol can be very corrosive to the materials used in building the fuel systems of old cars. So, it's not just a question of whether the engine will run on ethanol fuel, but also whether there’s a risk of corroding or damaging some internal components in older cars.

Many recent car brands and models can run on ethanol-fuel blends, but not all. For example, some engines can run on E10 fuels, while others may only do so with E5. 

So, to be sure, always refer to the manufacturer or your car owner’s manual.

Can a Car Run Purely on Ethanol Fuel?

Yes, a car could run purely on ethanol fuel. However, it will require many expensive modifications, making the process not worth the effort.

A much more feasible option would be to convert a car to a Flexible Fuel Vehicle (FFV), which enables the engine to run on petrol-ethanol fuel with a maximum concentration of about 83%-85% ethanol.

Which Australian States and Territories Allow Use of Ethanol for Cars?

There are no geographic restrictions on where ethanol can or can’t be used for cars. Instead, the challenge lies in finding petrol stations that offer petroleum blended with ethanol for sale.

State Government Mandates

Two Australian states, New South Wales and Queensland, have mandated that a certain percentage of the total fuel sales at all petrol stations must come from biofuels, including ethanol. That has helped to make ethanol much more readily available for people who want to buy it.

600+ Service Stations Across Australia Sell E10 Fuel

Some statistics indicate that at least 600 service stations all over the country have at least E10 fuel available.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Using Ethanol Fuel for Cars?

As mentioned earlier, ethanol is rarely used in its pure form. At most, you’ll find it blended with petrol at an 85% concentration. That means ethanol is essentially a complement to petrol, and there is no ethanol vs petrol debate going on.

With that said, using ethanol as fuel for cars does have its fair share of pros and cons.

The Benefits of Using Ethanol Fuel for Cars

Cleaner Burn: The primary benefit of using ethanol fuel is that it burns much cleaner. To be precise, ethanol fuel burns completely and at a lower temperature compared to regular gasoline. That means the combustion process results in lesser emissions overall.

Produced from Renewable Materials: Ethanol fuel, sometimes called bioethanol, is a type of biofuel. Ethanol fuel is made from vegetable crops rather than fossil deposits. Besides being renewable and better for the environment, the production process is also much more straightforward than petroleum and diesel.

The Drawbacks of Using Ethanol Fuel for Cars

Lower Mileage: Ethanol fuel comes with some trade-offs. For instance, even though it burns cleaner, it also produces less power than petrol. That results in lower mileage overall when relying on ethanol fuel.

Lacking infrastructure: Another problem is that ethanol fuel lacks the infrastructure required to make it more widely available. For example, many facilities produce ethanol fuel in Australia, but there aren't enough service stations to distribute it.

Interestingly, when looking at a map of service stations offering ethanol fuel, it’s clear that they’re mainly concentrated along Australia’s east coast.


To learn more about ethanol for cars and other types of alternative fuels, check out the blog at Carpart.com.au. The blog is updated frequently with educational articles to help you understand all topics related to cars.

You will find plenty of useful tools and resources about car and car parts at our website, so come and check it out!


By Ray Hasbollah