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Walking the Walk in Advanced Biofuels USA’s “E30 and Beyond Retrofitted” Focus

Biofuels Engine Design, Deliver Dispense, Idaho, Infrastructure, Maryland, Ohio, Opinions, Original Writing, Opinions Advanced Biofuels USA, Performance, R & D Focus, What You Can Do
December 9, 2015

by Robert E. Kozak* (Advanced Biofuels USA) Here at Advanced Biofuels USA we’ve been banging the drum for E30 for a number of years. Equal fuel mileage, better performance, you know the facts.

Well, all that time we never had a Flex Fuel car, either factory built or retrofitted.

This fall we decided to do something about that.

Our starting point was Executive Director Joanne Ivancic’s bright yellow 2002 Ford Focus ZX3 which had traveled over 110,000 miles.

2002 Ford Focus ZX3

2002 Ford Focus ZX3

If anyone knows much about the 1st generation ZX3 they’ll tell you it handles great and loves rallye type roads but is a bit of an under-achiever in the power department. Its 4 cylinder 2.0L Zetec engine has all the right specifications; dual overhead cams (DOHC), aluminum block, etc. but low-end torque and mid-range RPM horsepower both seem to be lacking. It’s especially noticeable when driving uphill. The throttle is wide-open but whatever additional fuel is supposed to be added doesn’t seem to do much. The Zetec engine was developed in Europe where the standard octane is 92. It almost seems as if when Ford recalibrated the US Zetec to run on 87 octane regular the fuel trim and ignition timing maps were not balanced between mileage and performance but instead were set to maximize fuel economy on the EPA emission/fuel mileage cycles.

Our first step toward an “E30 and Beyond Retrofit” was looking at the websites and specifications of various E85 retrofit kits.

Fuel Flex International attracted our attention with what seemed to be a simple approach – electronically modifying the fuel injection pulse signal while retaining all other aspects of the factory installed computer and engine sensors. It also seemed like an easy system to remove which would allow us to return the car to factory settings if needed.

We contacted Alex Conger at Fuel Flex and pitched him the idea of Fuel Flex providing us with a system for installation and testing. In return we’d write up our results on the Advanced Biofuels USA website for all the world to see. He said he’d think about it. A few days later he agreed. He must have a lot of confidence in his system, I thought.

We sent him photos of the fuel injector electrical connectors on the Focus and on Saturday morning, October 24th the retrofit kit arrived by US mail. Unfortunately, we had just started a major insulation/energy reduction project for our offices so the kit had to stay in the box for awhile.

Fuel Flex Retrofit Kit

Fuel Flex Retrofit Kit (Installation guide and technical manual, upgrade kit, Fuel Flex insignia, business card)

Finally on Sunday, November 8th I started. The installation looked straight forward. The Fuel Flex package is designed to be plugged in-line to the factory delivered system.

This means; 1) disconnect the current 4 fuel injector electrical connectors (one per cylinder) from the factory receptors, 2) plug the original connectors into one of the package of 4 dual Fuel Flex connectors, and 3) plug the other 4 connectors of the Fuel Flex package back into the fuel injector receptors.

Dual Fuel Flex electrical plugs

Dual Fuel Flex electrical plugs

However, when I disconnected the factory electrical connectors I saw the original electrical connector hardware might present a problem. Ford had installed a nice plastic box that kept the connectors and their wires organized. While I’m sure this sped up the engine assembly, the box prevented an installation of the Fuel Flex package – there simply was no room.

Fuel injector electrical connection box

Fuel injector electrical connection box

Since I did not want to remove or break anything on the Focus, I put everything back together and we sent photos to Alex at Fuel Flex. Fortunately he had encountered this arrangement in the past. He said the box provided no electrical functions, it just cleaned up the installation. As long as I was careful and used wire ties when needed the Fuel Flex system could be installed without the box.

Wednesday, November 11th, WWI Armistice Day, it was installed.

The box was removed without damage so it could be reused if needed. The in-line connectors installed easily and quickly.  Removing the air intake pipe from the throttle made that job much easier.

With Air Intake Removed

Injector wires installed with air intake removed

The one issue, which took about an hour to resolve was finding a mounting spot for the Fuel Flex control box and safely mounting it. As you can see in this photo there is very little excess real estate under a Focus hood. Ford did a good job removing most unneeded space to reduce the frontal area of the ZX3. A spot was found between the battery and the right front fender. Holes were drilled and the control box mounted.

Fuel Flex control box

Fuel Flex control box installed

Once everything was hooked up and sufficient plastic ties were installed to keep the wiring out of trouble, it was time to reconnect the battery and fire up the engine.

Installation complete

Installation complete

It started on the first try. There was a bit of a stumble at idle, but after several restart cycles it seemed the Focus ECU and the Fuel Flex system had synced their fuel trim signals and the idle smoothed out. So far the Check Engine light DID NOT come on. That was a good sign.

Checking idle and "check engine light" status

Checking idle and “check engine light” status

The next step was what this whole project was about. Could the Focus run on an ethanol concentration higher than 10 percent? We backed out of the driveway. The odometer read 110,998. Next stop, an E85 pump.

Frederick, Maryland is fortunate to have an E85 equipped station. Please read Joanne’s article about our fueling adventures!

According to the Excel spreadsheet I set up for this project, we put in 3.5 gallons of E85. This meant the resulting ethanol content in the tank was about 38%. We headed west on US40, The National Road.

Bob Kozak pumps first tank of E85 in retrofitted Focus

Bob Kozak pumps first tank of E85 into retrofitted Focus

No stumbles, engine still smooth, NO Check Engine Light. After about 15-20 miles, which seemed to be enough time for the E38 mixture to be flowing through the fuel injectors, I decided to see how the Focus would climb. It seemed like an improvement. When I opened the throttle, I felt a little shove back into the seat. She was accelerating. A little more throttle, a little more power. Now that felt good. Before contributing to the Maryland State Police coffers I backed off and we returned home.

We started piling up the miles. I wanted to get several hundred on the new ethanol mixtures before writing anything. Also, I wanted to accumulate at least 200 miles before I made one other change – a new fuel filter. Ethanol, besides being a good fuel, is also a good solvent. I wanted the 30%+ ethanol mixture to clean out the fuel tank of any residuals that might have accumulated since the fuel pump was replaced about 30,000 miles ago. Also, I wanted to replace it before we went to Cleveland for Thanksgiving.

Note to anyone contemplating spending a pleasant afternoon replacing a Focus fuel filter. Let someone else do it. Remember what I said about the lack of room under the Focus hood? The same can be said for the space around the gas tank. While it was colder out than it looked and it did get dark, the car had a new fuel filter. Even better, I had installed one with the Flex-Fuel part number!

Installing fuel filter

Installing fuel filter. Jack stands were used.

It’s now December 8th 2016. We have over 1,300 miles running on E30+ mixtures. We have purchased 26.6 gallons of E85 and have displaced about 63% of a barrel of oil. What do I think?

One. It’s been hard to keep the mixture around E30. When I start pumping in the E85 it’s hard to stop. While this project was supposed to be an E30 experiment, I’m guilty of putting in that good ethanol until the mixture is around 40%. Oh and by the way, except for the Pennsylvania Turnpike, it’s been cheaper.

Two. Performance. I haven’t had a chance to compare OBD (On-Board Diagnostic) outputs for timing, O2 sensors, fuel mapping, etc., yet for E10 and E30, nor have I gotten the car on a dyno so all I have are observations. But, having now gone both directions on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, a road well traveled in the past with this car, it seemed to go up hills much easier and faster. On the eastbound return trip there was rain, fog, and many trucks. This resulted in many uphill braking and acceleration events to get around the truck traffic.

Pretty Baby (her new name because of her many trips to New Orleans and, well she looks cute and happy with her new fuel) hauled the mail quite well. No need to plan movements ahead of time. Using the throttle produced immediate results.

My perception is that the increased octane of the E30+ mixture is allowing the car’s computer to delay spark ignition just enough (about a millionth of a second) to slightly increase the compression ratio and produce more torque. This is something I want to explore with the OBD read-outs.

One other note on performance. Pretty Baby got two new Tiger Paw GTZ AS 20550ZR16s in Cleveland. Yes, those are not “touring” tires.

Three. Mileage. See above, performance. Also, a left front wheel bearing kept getting louder. It’s now replaced. The friction from the bad one probably didn’t help mileage either.

Coming back from Cleveland with a new bearing and new tires in the rain and fog we had about a 42% ethanol mixture. Mileage was down from previous E10 runs by about 10% which is in keeping with most data. We are now running about a 32% ethanol mixture. This tank of fuel should give us some decent data.

Four. Next Steps. We will be tracking mileage more closely now that the shake-down phase of the project is over. If we can force ourselves to run on E10 we’ll also try some comparison runs. We’ll also be hooking-up our OBD system software to look at engine setting for different ethanol values. Keep your eyes open for future reports.

Five. Am I Glad We Did It? Yes. There’s nothing like using renewable, low GHG fuel is there? Also having the extra performance doesn’t hurt.

Six. Would I Recommend Converting to E30+ to Others? Yes. If you have a vehicle out of warranty that has good quality components and you want to do something for renewable fuels and the planet I’d highly recommend it. Get in touch with Alex Conger at Fuel Flex International or other reputable people. Do it as soon as you can!

Driving in the hills of Frederick, Maryland powered by E30+

Driving in the hills of Frederick, Maryland powered by E30+

 

Follow this series of articles about installing and using an E85 retrofit kit via tags Flex Fuel Vehicles (FFV)E85 conversion kit and What You Can Do.

 

*Robert E. (Bob) Kozak is the founder of Atlantic Biomass, LLC, and a co-founder of Advanced Biofuels USA. Having worked for about 40 years in the transportation, energy, environmental, and government relations industries and in enzyme development, he serves as a fuels/engines and policy expert for Advanced Biofuels USA.  He can be reached at atlanticbiomass @ aol.com

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