Flex-Fuel Kits Convert Toyota Prius to E85 Ethanol (For Less Than $1000)

  • Published on August 12th, 2008 by
 

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[social_buttons] Dutch firm Green Fuel Systems, along with several other companies, has developed flex-fuel conversion kits for the Toyota Prius that cost less than $1,000. Converting our existing fleet to second-generation ethanol could be the best near-term play to directly replace fossil fuels.

Although the concept of a hybrid/biofuel combo has been around for a while, it has (at least in our minds) mostly been in the form of diesel hybrids running on biodiesel (which isn’t going to happen). But what if we could take America’s most fuel efficient car and convert it to run on another domestically-produced renewable fuel: cellulosic ethanol?

It looks like that’s what Green Fuel Systems and a handful of other US-based companies want to do. Although ethanol has been beaten to a pulp by mainstream media, non-food based feedstocks (like switchgrass) are in the pipeline and could be seriously producing in the next five years. If you’re still not convinced, make sure to read this article: Dedicated Energy Crops Could Replace 30% of Gasoline.

While details on Green Fuel Systems’ specific product are lacking (and it’s not even clear if this is coming to the US), two US-based companies selling the same thing, and their systems are cheaper.

For example, a 4-cylinder flex-fuel conversion kit from Change2E85 costs less than $500. They even have a simple video describing how to install it. We’ve also previously covered AAMCO’s promotion of Flex Fuel US’s kits, and the holy grail: Ford’s prototype flex-fuel Escape plug-in hybrid that gets 88 mpg running on E85.

Converting our existing fleet of vehicles to flex-fuel capability, along with building it into new models, is arguably one of our best plays to reduce fossil fuel dependence in the next 10 years. GM thinks so, which is why by 2012, 50% of their new vehicles will have this capability.

But converting old vehicles instead of building brand new Chevy Avalanches, which get something like 15 mpg, makes much more sense. In terms of new vehicles, the most ideal would be a fuel-sipping plug-in hybrid running on E85 ethanol, produced from a second generation feedstock like switchgrass, miscanthus, or sorghum.

This is just one element of a three-part strategy to transition off our dependence on oil. If you visualize our nation’s oil consumption as a single barrel, we can try to eliminate it in thirds:

  • 1/3 of it gets cut out with increases in efficiency and conservation
  • 1/3 comes from direct replacements, like second-gen ethanol
  • 1/3 of it comes from new technology, like plug-in hybrid, electric, and hydrogen cars

The direct replacement part is particularly important, and there’s no way all the exciting new technology like plug-in and fully electric cars will do anything to offset the millions of cars already on the road. If it only takes a few hundred dollars to convert a car to run on E85, it might only be a paycheck away.

That is, of course, dependent on the full-scale implementation of economically viable cellulosic ethanol production and refueling infrastructure. If any of a number of developments pan out, the former should be in place in the next few years, and refueling infrastructure should follow suit.

More Posts on Flex Fuel and Cellulosic Ethanol:

Photo Credit: Beth and Christina via Flickr under Creative Commons License





About the Author

In a past life, Clayton was a professional blogger and editor of Gas 2.0, Important Media’s blog covering the future of sustainable transportation. He was also the Managing Editor for GO Media, the predecessor to Important Media.
  • “But converting a vehicle that gets 55 mpg, vs GM’s Chevy Avalanche, which gets something like 15 mpg, makes much more sense. ”

    Why would it make more sense to convert a Prius, rather than something that uses more than three times as much fuel?

    One thing is for sure … the retrofit market is growing and will be huge, no matter the technology (primarily CNG, plug-in hybrid & clean diesel/biodiesel).

  • “But converting a vehicle that gets 55 mpg, vs GM’s Chevy Avalanche, which gets something like 15 mpg, makes much more sense. ”

    Why would it make more sense to convert a Prius, rather than something that uses more than three times as much fuel?

    One thing is for sure … the retrofit market is growing and will be huge, no matter the technology (primarily CNG, plug-in hybrid & clean diesel/biodiesel).

  • Clifford

    Convert it to ethanol? I thought we were trying to save the planet here. It has been proven over and over that ethanol is actually worse for the environment than regular old oil.

    It takes carbon emissions to grow the needed amounts of corn, it takes carbon emissions to extract the ethanol and then there are carbon emissions when the ethanol is burned. On top of that there are reports of 15% less fuel efficiency with ethanol.

    We are pouring our food supply into our gas tanks. That has influenced our food prices in an already weak economy.

    Converting your hybrid to ethanol will make it worse for the environment than it already is.

  • Clifford

    Convert it to ethanol? I thought we were trying to save the planet here. It has been proven over and over that ethanol is actually worse for the environment than regular old oil.

    It takes carbon emissions to grow the needed amounts of corn, it takes carbon emissions to extract the ethanol and then there are carbon emissions when the ethanol is burned. On top of that there are reports of 15% less fuel efficiency with ethanol.

    We are pouring our food supply into our gas tanks. That has influenced our food prices in an already weak economy.

    Converting your hybrid to ethanol will make it worse for the environment than it already is.

  • Clifford, please refer back to the article. I’m talking about cellulosic ethanol, not corn-based ethanol. They have very little in common.

  • Clifford, please refer back to the article. I’m talking about cellulosic ethanol, not corn-based ethanol. They have very little in common.

  • Yeah, I was about to come down on this article based on the title. But 2nd Gen Ethanol is an idea I haven’t heard of yet. Very cool!

  • mpgomatic:

    I guess what I was trying to say is that a brand new plug-in hybrid running on a biofuel makes more sense than a brand new chevy avalanche running on a biofuel.

    But that only applies to new vehicles. You’re right that converting old gas guzzlers would actually make more of an impact than converting a bunch of old Priuses.

    Post was updated above..

  • Yeah, I was about to come down on this article based on the title. But 2nd Gen Ethanol is an idea I haven’t heard of yet. Very cool!

  • mpgomatic:

    I guess what I was trying to say is that a brand new plug-in hybrid running on a biofuel makes more sense than a brand new chevy avalanche running on a biofuel.

    But that only applies to new vehicles. You’re right that converting old gas guzzlers would actually make more of an impact than converting a bunch of old Priuses.

    Post was updated above..

  • Joel

    Food based crop, or non edible crop, it makes no difference: ethanol is the devil. It can’t be transported via pipelines, it takes up acreage that would otherwise be used for food production thereby decreasing the overall production of food which in turn pushes edible crop prices through the roof, and it takes lots of water to produce on a large scale.

    It is not a viable stop gap solution either as the cost to implement production and distribution would ensure that it would be around for a long while as investors would want to make a substantial profit on their money. In addition, those same investment dollars could be better used on increasing mileage by innovating cheaper technology currently on the shelf.

  • Joel

    Food based crop, or non edible crop, it makes no difference: ethanol is the devil. It can’t be transported via pipelines, it takes up acreage that would otherwise be used for food production thereby decreasing the overall production of food which in turn pushes edible crop prices through the roof, and it takes lots of water to produce on a large scale.

    It is not a viable stop gap solution either as the cost to implement production and distribution would ensure that it would be around for a long while as investors would want to make a substantial profit on their money. In addition, those same investment dollars could be better used on increasing mileage by innovating cheaper technology currently on the shelf.

  • Joel

    BTW, it does not escape my attention that the blogger is pushing E85, GM is pushing E85, and there happens to be two great big GM ads on the page I’m viewing.

  • Joel

    BTW, it does not escape my attention that the blogger is pushing E85, GM is pushing E85, and there happens to be two great big GM ads on the page I’m viewing.

  • Daniel

    Or just don’t buy a car.

    It does more harm to the environment to manufacture a Prius, let alone it’s batteries, than to drive a Land Rover.

    Bio Diesel, all the way.

  • Daniel

    Or just don’t buy a car.

    It does more harm to the environment to manufacture a Prius, let alone it’s batteries, than to drive a Land Rover.

    Bio Diesel, all the way.

  • @Clayton:

    I’m curious, why the added expense for converting hybrids to flex-fuel capable cars? Can the FFI product (available at change2e85, whom you reference) work with a hybrid engine? In my experience, the FFI products just sit between the fuel injectors and the engine valves, managing the fuel flow based on the fuel mixture. I’d be interested to learn what is different between FFI/standard flex fuel conversion kits and the Green Fuel Systems units… The FFI model is supposed to work with Toyota hybrids:

    http://www.change2e85.com/servlet/Detail?no=108

    Funny enough, on a similar subject, I asked the stunningly-verbose Henrik Fisker about Flex Fuels in his Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid:

    http://www.gearcrave.com/buyers-guide/autos/gearcrave-interview-henrik-fisker-and-the-fisker-karma/

    Fisker’s response: “There are no plans for that at this moment. We believe that the gasoline engine is the best solution as it will not be used very often.”

    …too bad.

  • @Clayton:

    I’m curious, why the added expense for converting hybrids to flex-fuel capable cars? Can the FFI product (available at change2e85, whom you reference) work with a hybrid engine? In my experience, the FFI products just sit between the fuel injectors and the engine valves, managing the fuel flow based on the fuel mixture. I’d be interested to learn what is different between FFI/standard flex fuel conversion kits and the Green Fuel Systems units… The FFI model is supposed to work with Toyota hybrids:

    http://www.change2e85.com/servlet/Detail?no=108

    Funny enough, on a similar subject, I asked the stunningly-verbose Henrik Fisker about Flex Fuels in his Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid:

    http://www.gearcrave.com/buyers-guide/autos/gearcrave-interview-henrik-fisker-and-the-fisker-karma/

    Fisker’s response: “There are no plans for that at this moment. We believe that the gasoline engine is the best solution as it will not be used very often.”

    …too bad.

  • “BTW, it does not escape my attention that the blogger is pushing E85, GM is pushing E85, and there happens to be two great big GM ads on the page I’m viewing.”

    Joel,

    Oh boy, here we go. I’ve been waiting for someone to accuse me of being paid off by GM. Usually advertisers just pay for advertising space without paying for good PR too, but your cutting observation has uncovered major conspiracy here. Excellent work.

    Actually, GM has been incredibly open with the blogging community about their commitment second-gen biofuels, and for what it’s worth, I hope they figure it out.

  • “BTW, it does not escape my attention that the blogger is pushing E85, GM is pushing E85, and there happens to be two great big GM ads on the page I’m viewing.”

    Joel,

    Oh boy, here we go. I’ve been waiting for someone to accuse me of being paid off by GM. Usually advertisers just pay for advertising space without paying for good PR too, but your cutting observation has uncovered major conspiracy here. Excellent work.

    Actually, GM has been incredibly open with the blogging community about their commitment second-gen biofuels, and for what it’s worth, I hope they figure it out.

  • “Food based crop, or non edible crop, it makes no difference”

    Yes, it makes all the difference. Please refer to the related articles above, or duke it out with me in the discussion forums:

    “Do Biofuels Suck?”

    http://discuss.greenoptions.com/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=622

  • “Food based crop, or non edible crop, it makes no difference”

    Yes, it makes all the difference. Please refer to the related articles above, or duke it out with me in the discussion forums:

    “Do Biofuels Suck?”

    http://discuss.greenoptions.com/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=622

  • Just one clarification Clayton…

    a Hybrid Ford Escape that runs on E85 might get 88 miles per petro-gallon, but it’s overall fuel efficiency will be lower than just the hybrid because of the reduced fuel efficiency of E85. I’m not knocking E85 as I’ll likely be converting a vehicle myself to an FFV using one of the kits you note above and I fully support ethanol, just wanted the facts to be clear on the fuel economy. If a Hybrid Escape gets lets say 35 mpg, then one running E85 will get on the order of 30ish mpg. The reduced petroleum demand is very important, but keep the facts clear.

  • Just one clarification Clayton…

    a Hybrid Ford Escape that runs on E85 might get 88 miles per petro-gallon, but it’s overall fuel efficiency will be lower than just the hybrid because of the reduced fuel efficiency of E85. I’m not knocking E85 as I’ll likely be converting a vehicle myself to an FFV using one of the kits you note above and I fully support ethanol, just wanted the facts to be clear on the fuel economy. If a Hybrid Escape gets lets say 35 mpg, then one running E85 will get on the order of 30ish mpg. The reduced petroleum demand is very important, but keep the facts clear.

  • jpm100

    Its sad to see how specifically ethanol has be demonized. People have been so wound up about ethanol that if it rained from the sky into open barrels, they still find reasons to criticize it.

    And although there’s room for discussion on how it affects the price of corn (which is down 30% despite demand for ethanol not being down). We have not come close to maxing out this country’s crop production ever. We are not, forgive the play on words, at Peak Corn.

    And, I in no small part I call ‘shenanigans’ on the negativity to which seems to have targeted ethanol specifically and not ‘crops for food’.

    I guess its a random coincidence, that in about a month of companies announcing cellulosic ethanol processes are ready for prime time and they could produce ethanol for $1 a gallon, all this negative press which usually mentions ‘ethanol’, not ‘food for fuel’ or even ‘corn for ethanol’, come out.

    Never mind the E85 production is small fraction of ethanol usage in vehicles today. Sources espousing ethanol’s evil nature seem to make sure the public believes its the E85 biofuel programs that are driving these issues.

    I can only surmise there are people out there who are threatened financially either through their employment or personal investments that know cellulosic ethanol can put a huge damper on the price situation. They do not want competition with cellulosic ethanol. Its ironic, but usually the espousers of ethanol’s evils that say ‘let the market decide’.

    Add to the fact the cellulosic ethanol is near the top of the list for reducing net C02 emission added to its cheaper cost will only speed up its adoption.

    I suspect they want to criticize corn ethanol while they still can to negatively impact the E85 ethanol infrastructure. Possibly even get Washington to scrap support for it al together.

  • jpm100

    Its sad to see how specifically ethanol has be demonized. People have been so wound up about ethanol that if it rained from the sky into open barrels, they still find reasons to criticize it.

    And although there’s room for discussion on how it affects the price of corn (which is down 30% despite demand for ethanol not being down). We have not come close to maxing out this country’s crop production ever. We are not, forgive the play on words, at Peak Corn.

    And, I in no small part I call ‘shenanigans’ on the negativity to which seems to have targeted ethanol specifically and not ‘crops for food’.

    I guess its a random coincidence, that in about a month of companies announcing cellulosic ethanol processes are ready for prime time and they could produce ethanol for $1 a gallon, all this negative press which usually mentions ‘ethanol’, not ‘food for fuel’ or even ‘corn for ethanol’, come out.

    Never mind the E85 production is small fraction of ethanol usage in vehicles today. Sources espousing ethanol’s evil nature seem to make sure the public believes its the E85 biofuel programs that are driving these issues.

    I can only surmise there are people out there who are threatened financially either through their employment or personal investments that know cellulosic ethanol can put a huge damper on the price situation. They do not want competition with cellulosic ethanol. Its ironic, but usually the espousers of ethanol’s evils that say ‘let the market decide’.

    Add to the fact the cellulosic ethanol is near the top of the list for reducing net C02 emission added to its cheaper cost will only speed up its adoption.

    I suspect they want to criticize corn ethanol while they still can to negatively impact the E85 ethanol infrastructure. Possibly even get Washington to scrap support for it al together.

  • Patrick Karp

    First off let me say that it make more sence to convert a low MPG car to run E85 then a hybrid. We need to tackle those autos who use the most gas first. Aside from that I agree with the one poster that biodeisel is the way to go. Simply by buying a deisel instead of a gas engine reduces the carbon footprint with out the use of alternative fuels. We get more gallons per barrel with deisel, Its easier to make. Costs less to make, Burns cleaner, and we are able to get more MPG with it. It does not need any modificatons to run biodeisel and when doing so does not suffer with less MPG as running E85.

    In the end however we need to utilize all of these resources. As far as making the new SUV flex over an existing car will why not do both. I would like nothing better then to get 50 mpg with my Escape hybrid. I think it was completely stupid that they did not make it so this car could run on E85. There just is no good reason not too. Over all it was a good article. The points being made where spot on.

  • Patrick Karp

    First off let me say that it make more sence to convert a low MPG car to run E85 then a hybrid. We need to tackle those autos who use the most gas first. Aside from that I agree with the one poster that biodeisel is the way to go. Simply by buying a deisel instead of a gas engine reduces the carbon footprint with out the use of alternative fuels. We get more gallons per barrel with deisel, Its easier to make. Costs less to make, Burns cleaner, and we are able to get more MPG with it. It does not need any modificatons to run biodeisel and when doing so does not suffer with less MPG as running E85.

    In the end however we need to utilize all of these resources. As far as making the new SUV flex over an existing car will why not do both. I would like nothing better then to get 50 mpg with my Escape hybrid. I think it was completely stupid that they did not make it so this car could run on E85. There just is no good reason not too. Over all it was a good article. The points being made where spot on.

  • Julie

    This week I found a fascinating video of Anne Korin on YouTube that opened my eyes to the oil issue. She explains the dangers to our economy of maintaining oil as our primary transportation fuel. I have a Prius and thought I was doing great by getting 48 mpg on gasoline. I’m looking for a conversion to flex fuels now. Oil needs a strong competitor.

  • Julie

    This week I found a fascinating video of Anne Korin on YouTube that opened my eyes to the oil issue. She explains the dangers to our economy of maintaining oil as our primary transportation fuel. I have a Prius and thought I was doing great by getting 48 mpg on gasoline. I’m looking for a conversion to flex fuels now. Oil needs a strong competitor.

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