There is a hidden danger in the use of E-85 fuel (fuel that is 85% ethanol) that has not been publicized and will become a serious issue in the future as its use spreads. That is that ethanol mixes easily with water, environmentally conscious consumers will fill their tanks with E-85 in vehicles not properly equipped, and an ethanol fire cannot be extinguished with the foam normally used by firefighters to extinguish gasoline fires. These issues are destined to weigh heavily in the future.
First is the fact that ethanol is water soluble. Ethanol is just like the alcohol that one uses to make an alcoholic beverage. Take a glass of juice and pour alcohol into it and it readily mixes. Take the same juice and pour some gasoline into it and you have a film on top of the liquid that will not mix and can be easily skimmed off. This is an important distinction when it comes to fuel spills into waterways and other standing water such as ponds. The ethanol will simply dissolve into the water and cannot be cleaned up by normal methods of skimming and absorbent pads placed on top of the water. What will emergency crews do? That is yet to be determined but we see no easy answer or solution.
Second and even more importantly is the use of E-85 in vehicles that are not designed for E-85. This is a serious safety hazard. E-85 fuel will eat through the o-rings and gaskets in vehicles not specially equipped for E-85 fuel. A Kansas firefighter training in these issues reports he sat across the street from an E-85 fuel station and watched driver after driver with older vehicles not equipped for E-85 fuel filling their tanks in a misguided effort to be environmentally conscious. The result can be catastrophic fires due to the erosion of o-rings and gaskets that seal high pressure fuel systems from leaking. These fuel systems run very high pressures and a failed o-ring can and often does cause sudden and severe vehicle fires. You can imagine what might happen if that fire starts inside a garage at home, inside a repair facility, or inside a parking garage. The results can not only involve serious property damage but can endanger lives.
Third is the fact that the foam commonly used to fight gasoline fires will not work on ethanol fires. The alcohol breaks down the bubbles in the foam and can cause a regular fire on the ground to create a potentially dangerous explosion. Most fire fighting agencies do not yet have the special foam that is needed because it is thirty percent more expensive than the foam currently used to fight petroleum based fires.
Please keep these facts in mind and be sure that you do not use E-85 fuel in a vehicle that is not specifically designed for its use.
Source: Automotive Body Repair News