A rechargeable E85 hybrid, less harmful to the environment than an electric car?

A rechargeable E85 hybrid, less harmful to the environment than an electric car?


Ifpen has changed its name, but its DNA remains unchanged. The former “French Petroleum Institute” actually added “New Energy” as a suffix in the 2010s. The Institute’s roots, focused on the oil sector. So it’s no surprise to see communications focus more on combustion engines! In fact, Ifpen has made public a large study that shows the interest of a rechargeable blend of E85 juice in clean electricity. Research accredited to SNPAA (National Association of Agricultural Alcohol Producers), AIBS (Association of Beet and Sugar Specialists) and Intercereals. It is important to point this out in context…

Case studies

The study is based on the case of a compact C-segment sedan© Christophe Congrega

Ifpen has studied the following vehicles:

  • 100% petrol car (memory car) VTH G
  • Car heat Superethanol-E85 VTH E85
  • Car Full Hybrid Superethanol-E85 VFH E85
  • Superethanol-E85 VFH E85 plug-in hybrid vehicle
  • An electric car with a 60kWh VE battery
  • Electric car with 80kWh VE+ battery

Unfortunately, the Institute has not specified the models used for the test. A shame. He is content to mention that only one “section” is studied, which is the C section, that of the Peugeot 308 and the Renault Mégane with a standard weight of 1427 kg. A real case of the French car fleet. Tests on the PHEV E85 model were split as follows: 40% electric/60% E85. Ifpen conducted its tests not on the WLTP model used for the approval of new cars, but on the Artemis cycle, which had been proposed for some time to replace the old NEDC. So it should be very close to reality.

Less CO2, even in France

Ifpen summarizes the research with these conclusions:

  • With regard to light vehicles in France, the use of a plug-in hybrid engine powered only by Superethanol-E85 is, in terms of GHG emissions, at least as efficient as a battery electric car. This is true for the actual use of the rechargeable hybrid, i.e. 40% of the kilometers in all-electric mode, and 60% in internal combustion mode.
  • In Europe, and a more carbon-efficient electric hybrid, the E85 plug-in hybrid even performs better than a battery-powered electric vehicle.

It should be noted that this study is of the “well to tank” and “tank to wheel” type, ie from the well to the wheel. Battery manufacturing (China), grain production to produce E85, electricity for electric vehicles: all the main parameters have been taken into account in the calculation of GHG (greenhouse gases) emissions for each case.

Greenhouse gas emissions for E85, electricity and fuel according to Ifpen
Greenhouse gas emissions for E85, electricity and fuel according to Ifpen© Ifpen

The institute also notes that E85 associated with a non-rechargeable hybrid engine is very important. But it is clear today that apart from Ford, very few manufacturers have chosen this energy. And then, even if there are many conversion boxes, nothing will beat the special development of the engine burning E85 (valve seats and other mechanical modifications …). Unfortunately, the offer is very limited at the moment, and developments in electrical matters are so expensive that large groups cannot afford to be in several fields at the same time.

However, a little attention to the conclusion of the study: it is valid for a period of 150,000 km. The 250,000 km graph shows the electrification taking on other powertrains, including the PHEV E85. And it makes sense: the major issues associated with battery production have been reduced.

Plant energy, is it really good?

And then, of course, it will remain debate about using land to produce oil instead of food, with a very large use of these plots. Research is probably not paying attention potential impacts of corn farming (which uses a lot of water, a resource that has become sensitive), especially, but more generally, the result of too much agriculture on the soil, always producing fuel instead of food. However, France remains average in this respect: 3% of agricultural land used to produce this oil. By comparison, in the United States, 40% of the corn produced nationwide goes into tanks instead of plates! Recent research of the National Academy of Sciences pointed the finger directly at these agricultural fuels, believing they contribute more to global warming… than petroleum-based gasoline.