An innovative new hybrid research vehicle being developed by Ford Motor Company has a dual mission: help reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
At the Washington Auto Show, Ford unveiled the Ford Escape Hybrid E85, a research vehicle marrying two petroleum-saving technologies hybrid electric power and flexible-fuel capability. Escape Hybrid E85 is the world’s first hybrid vehicle capable of operating on blends of fuel containing as much as 85 percent ethanol, a renewable fuel that can be produced from American-grown corn or sugar beets. And ethanol use releases no fossil-based CO 2, so its use as a fuel in place of gasoline reduces the release of greenhouse gases.
“As a leader in both hybrid vehicles and in vehicles capable of operating on ethanol-based fuels, Ford is the ideal company to bring both technologies together for the first time,” says Anne Stevens, executive vice president, Ford Motor Company, and chief operating officer, The Americas.
Ford Escape Hybrid E85
A Fuel from the Heartland of America
E85 is a fuel blend that contains 85 percent ethanol and only 15 percent gasoline. Ethanol is a completely renewable fuel that in the U.S. most commonly is made from corn. Gasoline sold in the U.S. frequently contains up to 10 percent ethanol, but an increasing number of vehicles on the road today can operate on blends containing up to 85 percent ethanol.
If just 5 percent of the U.S. vehicle fleet were powered by hybrids operating exclusively on E85, imports of oil could be reduced by about 140 million barrels a year. Such a savings would increase U.S. energy security, improve the nation’s balance of payments and support America ’s agricultural economy.
Additionally, ethanol-fueled hybrids could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Ford Escape Hybrid, already the world’s cleanest and most fuel-efficient small SUV, would produce about 25 percent less carbon dioxide if operated exclusively on renewable E85 ethanol fuel instead of carbon-rich gasoline.
Ford Expertise Critical to Overcoming Technical Challenges
The Ford Escape Hybrid E85 research project will aim for breakthroughs that could further expand the appeal of ethanol-capable vehicles.
“Ford researchers are applying some of the best expertise in the industry in hybrid power controls, flexible fuel operation and exhaust after-treatment,” says Nancy Gioia, director, Sustainable Mobility Technologies & Hybrid Programs. “We’re working on the whole system, from the fuel tank through to the tailpipe, to optimize fuel efficiency and lower emissions.”
Although Ford engineers have achieved very low tail-pipe emissions with flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs), evaporative emissions remain a challenge. Some blends of ethanol are much more volatile than gasoline, so a more aggressive evaporative system is necessary. A full hybrid application presents additional evaporative challenges, because the vehicle often operates on electric power alone without actuating the evaporative vacuum system that operates when the gasoline engine is in use.
Ford engineers are pursuing a number of strategies to address this challenge with the goal of achieving partial zero-emissions vehicle (PZEV) status. No FFV has yet been certified to this extremely clean standard, because of the evaporative requirement in the PZEV standard.
Further expanding the popularity of both hybrids and the use of ethanol-based fuels would significantly reduce American oil imports and greenhouse gas emissions until the day when hydrogen becomes widely used as a fuel for internal combustion engines or as a source of electric power produced by hydrogen fuel cells.