Ford Escape FFV-PHEV. Image courtesy of The Renewable Fuels Association

The Renewable Fuels Association is showcasing the world's first Plug-in Hybrid Electric Flex Fuel Vehicle (PHEFFV) this week at the Washington, D.C. Auto Show. RFA has conducted tailpipe emissions analysis, comprehensive life cycle greenhouse gas assessment, overall cost of ownership analysis, and convenience testing for the vehicle, a converted 2022 Ford Escape.

The PHEFFV is a concept vehicle that combines the benefits of a flex fuel vehicle (FFV), capable of operating on up to 83% ethanol, and a battery electric vehicle (BEV). The vehicle provides a lower-cost, lower-emissions solution for consumers. The Escape has already surpassed 27,000 miles exclusively fueled by low-carbon E85, an alternative fuel containing 51% to 83% ethanol, by utilizing an eFlexFuel conversion kit.

“With the Flex Fuel Power Initiative, we’re showcasing a balanced and flexible path to lower emissions. This vehicle offers an innovative solution that hasn't been done before,” says Robert White, RFA Senior Vice President of Industry Relations and Market Development. “Our PHEFFV demonstrates the potential of flex fuel vehicles fueled with low-carbon ethanol to enhance reliability while lowering emissions, providing a unique and mindful approach to sustainable transportation."

The benefits of the PHEFFV, as proven in testing by the University of California-Riverside Center for Environmental Research & Technology, the Univ. of Illinois Chicago and Life Cycle Associates, and RFA include:

  • Cost of Ownership: Flex fuel vehicles, even when combined with plug-in hybrid technology, offer a more economical choice than battery electric vehicles (BEVs). With a lower initial purchase price ($39,685) compared to a comparable BEV ($47,795), coupled with the affordability of ethanol flex fuel, PHEFFVs demonstrate a distinct cost advantage. In addition, fuel expenses per mile on E85 are estimated at $0.068. This makes it a cost-effective alternative to the $0.045-$0.090 per mile range for BEVs charged residentially and $0.33 per mile average when charged at public charging stations. E10, another ethanol blend, incurs an average cost of $0.093 per mile.
  • Excellent Fuel Economy and Range: This vehicle’s average fuel economy when operated on regular gasoline (E10) was rated by EPA at 40 miles per gallon. With more than 27,000 real-world miles driven, the vehicle has averaged 40 miles per gallon. But E85—not regular gasoline—has accounted for 98% of liquid fuel use in this vehicle, meaning it has experienced no fuel economy loss despite ethanol’s lower energy density! A full tank of E85 (and regenerative braking) provides roughly 400 miles of range in the Escape, with a fully-charged electric battery offering another 37 miles of range—for a total of nearly 440 miles. This compares to the stated range of about 245 miles for a comparable BEV with a fully charged battery.
  • Lower Tailpipe Pollution: Emissions testing done at the University of California at Riverside’s Center for Environmental Research & Technology shows that when using E85, harmful nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions are strongly reduced by an average of 64%% compared to operating the vehicle on regular gasoline. For Particulate Matter (PM), which contributes to poor air quality and causes human health problems, emissions were reduced by an average of 73%. For tailpipe CO2 emissions, E85 showed a statistically significant reduction of 3% compared to the base E10.
  • Lower Overall GHG Emissions: Research conducted by Univ. of Illinois Chicago & Life Cycle Associates demonstrates all ethanol blends provide significant greenhouse gas (GHG) savings relative to a battery EV (BEV) charged on a selective coal-only grid. Using E85 in optimized engines could provide approximately the same GHG savings as a BEV today operating on U.S. average grid electricity. But, with further reductions in carbon intensity (CI), E85 and other ethanol blends can outperform a BEV when it comes to total GHG emissions impacts. This vehicle when operated on E85 provides 38% lifecycle GHG emissions savings relative to ethanol-free gasoline (E0), with opportunities (using lower-carbon ethanol) for up to 77%!
  • Convenience: The PHEFFV allows the use of various fuel sources, including gasoline, mid-level ethanol blends like E30, flex fuels like E85, and electricity. This ensures the driver has easy access to all existing refueling stations and can make use of virtually any fuel offered in the marketplace today. While finding operable and available charging stations is an oft-cited challenge (and frustration) for BEV drivers, the PHEFFV option allows the driver to refuel and recharge with optimal convenience.
  • Energy Security: To meet the rising demand for raw materials for electric vehicle batteries by 2035, Benchmark Minerals estimates the need for over 300 new mines, warning of potential shortages and increased costs. The 1:6:90 Rule, which Toyota supports, suggests that the raw materials needed for one BEV battery could alternatively produce six plug-in hybrid electric vehicles or 90 hybrid electric vehicles, achieving a 37 times greater overall carbon reduction over their lifetimes compared to a single battery electric vehicle. The PHEFFV can help relieve raw materials supply chain constraints.
  • Grid Protection: The PHEFFV serves as an efficient "grid protector" by minimizing power grid strain through its lower electricity consumption. While the vehicle only needs 14.4 kilowatt-hours (kWh) to be fully charged, it will only accept a charge rate of 3.3 kWh. In contrast, a comparable BEV may require up to 82 kWh to achieve full battery capacity and will accept a charge rate of more than 250kWh.

Recognizing that a complete shift to BEVs may not be achievable in the future, RFA has designed the PHEFFV to demonstrate the immense and immediate potential of using flex fuel technology to complement electrification. The concept vehicle offers a middle-ground solution that closes the divide between full BEVs and traditional ICE vehicles. RFA had its vehicle evaluated by accredited third-party organizations for life cycle analysis, emissions testing, and fuel economy. As the PHEFFV continues to achieve new milestones, it solidifies its position as a forward-thinking transportation solution on the road to lower-emission vehicles.

For more information about the vehicle, visit