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What is a Flex Fuel Vehicle? Merits and Demerits of Flex Fuel Vehicle explained

What is a Flex Fuel Vehicle? Merits and Demerits of Flex Fuel Vehicle explained


  • GS 3 || Science & Technology || Energy || Bio Energy

Why in the news?

FFV is an alternative fuel vehicle which comprises the internal combustion engine which runs on more than one fuel. It usually runs on the gasoline blended with either ethanol or methanol fuel.

What Are Flexible-Fuel Vehicles?

  • Flex fuel vehicles, as dual fuel vehicles, have an internal combustion engine capable of functioning with a mixture of fuels.
  • Flex fuel vehicles are therefore not the same as bi-fuel vehicles, which have separate tanks for each different fuel type they use.
  • Flex fuel vehicles normally run on a mixture of either ethanol or methanol and gasoline.
  • A flexible-fuel vehicle (FFV) or dual-fuel vehicle (colloquially called a flex-fuel vehicle) is an alternative fuel vehicle with an internal combustion
  • Engine designed to run on more than one fuel, usually gasoline blended with either ethanol or methanol fuel, and both fuels are stored in the same common tank.
  • Flex-fuel vehicles are distinguished from bi-fuel vehicles, where two fuels are stored in separate tanks and the engine runs on one fuel at a time, FLEX-FUEL For example, compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), or hydrogen.
  • The most common commercially available FFV in the world market is the ethanol flexible-fuel vehicle, with about 60 million automobiles, motorcycles and light duty trucks manufactured and sold worldwide by The United March 2018, and concentrated in four markets
  • Brazil (30.5 million light duty vehicles and over 6 million motorcycles),
  • The United States (21 million by the end of 2017),
  • Canada (1.6 million by 2014),
  • Europe, led by Sweden (243,100)

Feature of Flexible-Fuel Vehicles:

  • This technology isn’t new. It was first developed in the early 1990s and used in the mass-produced 1994 Ford Taurus, According to Car Bibles. By 2017, there were approximately 21 million flex-fuel vehicles on the road.
  • A flexible-fuel vehicle can run on gasoline or a gasoline-ethanol blend containing up to 85% ethanol.
  • It performs as gasoline-powered cars do and may be visibly distinguishable from one only by its gas cap color or FFV-affiliated labels or badges on the vehicle.
  • It offers an eco-friendly alternative to a traditional gasoline-only vehicle that can save on fuel costs per gallon but can slightly reduce fuel economy.
  • You should factor in the cost of the vehicle, fuel, and maintenance to determine if an FFV fits into your budget.
  • Cleaner for the Environment-Ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline, which means flex-fuel cars pump fewer toxic fumes into the environment. Flex fuel also contributes fewer greenhouse gases, making it a more environmentally friendly option than traditional gasoline.

Significance of FFV in India:

  • In India, the FFVs will present a different advantage because the vehicles will allow the vehicles to use the different blends of ethanol mixed petrol which are available across the country as opposed to the current regulation.
  • The current regulation allows mixing up to 10 percent ethanol in petrol.
  • But due to shortage in supply & other transportation challenges, 10 percent blended petrol is available only across 15 states.
  • The FFVs would be allowing the vehicles to use all the blends and would run on unblended fuel as well.

Pros and Cons of Flexible-Fuel Vehicles:

  • The advantages of flexible-fuel vehicles include:
    • Choice of fuel: As the name implies, an FFV empowers you to choose between using traditional gasoline and a gasoline-ethanol blend. If, for example, E85 prices are lower than gasoline in your area, you could save money. And when the blend is unavailable, you can fuel up with gas.
    • Cleaner fumes: While FFVs still emit waste from the tailpipe, ethanol is a renewable fuel that burns cleaner than traditional gasoline does, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and keeping the air around you cleaner.
    • Less dependence on imported energy sources: E85 also fuel helps achieve the goal of reducing our reliance on foreign oil while supporting the domestic economy by improving the condition of local farmers who grow the corn and sugarcane used to produce ethanol.
    • Tax Benefits Consumers who drive flex-fuel cars receive tax credits that can significantly reduce or even eliminate their tax obligation.
    • Sustainably Produced Many flex-fuel vehicles run on ethanol, which is sustainably produced from ingredients such as cane sugar and corn. This makes ethanol a good alternative to purchasing foreign oil.
  • The negatives of flexible-fuel vehicles include:
    • Lower fuel economy: Ethanol is a less efficient source of fuel than traditional gasoline is—in other words, ethanol-laden fuel contains less usable energy for an equal amount of gas. Because of this, a flex-fuel vehicle running on a blended fuel like E85 is going to have a slightly lower gas mileage. Depending on E85 prices, you might have to pay more to travel a shorter distance when you opt for this fuel type.
    • Limited availability of E85: E85 is sold at more than 2,500 stations in the U.S., but it may not be offered at your local pump. If that’s the case, you’ll have an FFV but won’t be able to take advantage of its environmental and fuel cost benefits.
    • Not eligible for a tax credit: Currently, the Internal Revenue Service only offers a tax credit for consumers on qualified plug-in electric vehicles.
    • Gas Mileage One of the main concerns about driving a flex-fuel car is its gas mileage. While some experts assert that flex-fuel vehicles have similar mileage as regular fuel-powered vehicles, others claim they have lower gas mileage.

How cost effective flex fuel is?

  • The cost of adding flex-fuel capability to a new vehicle is minimal and seldom passed along to the customer because flex-fuel capability has long brought with it a Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) benefit.
  • An FFV doesn’t necessarily cost more than any other type of vehicle. The U.S. Department of Energy offers a list of the various FFVs on the market. Among 2020 models are the Chevrolet Impala, Ford Explorer, and GMC Yukon.
  • Many flex-fuel vehicles run on ethanol, which is sustainably produced from ingredients such as cane sugar and corn. This makes ethanol a good alternative to purchasing foreign oil

How can ethanol be consumed for flex fuel vehicles?

  • It can be consumed from corn but there are some problem with it-
    • Two other problems with corn: Growing it consumes a great deal of water, much of which has had to be pumped from the ground during recent drought conditions and which might be better invested in food production.
    • Also, converting corn to ethanol is energy intensive, because the starches it contains must be broken down to produce sugars that can be distilled into alcohol. For this reason, it takes roughly 30 percent more energy to produce ethanol from corn than it does to make it from sugar cane, and this further dents the global case for corn ethanol as a fuel.

Much shorter shelf life than conventional gasoline:

  • Since, Ethanol is both hygroscopic and tends to evaporate faster than Gasoline, it has a very short shelf life, which means that most blending will happen on a day-to-day basis from vendor outlets.
  • However, this also means that storing blended fuel might become a bit of an issue. Especially if you tend to keep that safety net of fuel in your garage

Bi-fuel vehicles:

  • The term flexible-fuel vehicles is sometimes used to include other alternative fuel vehicles that can run with compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied petroleum gas (LPG; also known as autogas), or hydrogen
  • However, all these vehicles actually are bi-fuel and not flexible-fuel vehicles, because they have engines that store the other fuel in a separate tank, and the engine runs on one fuel at a time.
  • Bi-fuel vehicles have the capability to switch back and forth from gasoline to the other fuel, manually or automatically. The most common available fuel in the market for bi-fuel cars is natural gas (CNG)
  • Multifuel vehicles are capable of operating with more than two fuels.
  • This automobile was aimed at the taxicab market and the switch among fuels is done manually
  • In December 2018, Toyota do Brasil announced the development of the world’s first commercial hybrid electric car with flex-fuel engine capable of running with electricity and any blend of ethanol fuel and gasoline.


The debates surrounding the pros and cons of flex fuel and flex-fuel vehicles aren’t going away anytime soon. However, there does seem to be a move toward using ethanol as an environmentally friendly and economical fuel source. More ethanol refining plants are opening up, and even if you’re not ready to transition to a flex-fuel vehicle yet, it’s something to keep in mind for the future. Technology is always changing, so there’s no way to predict what flex-fuel vehicles and advances could emerge over the next few years

Mains oriented question

What are flex fuel vehicles? What are pros and cons associated with it?