Mar 28, 2006

‘Live Green, Go Yellow:’ GM pushes new FuelFlex Vehicle line, brings attention to E85 fuel

by Alicia Wotring, Editor-in-Chief
The Hess filling station on Wards Road is selling gas for $2.49 per gallon, which isn’t bad since just six months ago it was over $3 per gallon after Hurricane Katrina hit. With some of the Gulf Coast’s oil refineries coming back online, gas prices are starting to fall, but it still may not be stable enough to win back the hearts of Americans desperate for an alternative to gasoline.

With this target of Americans in mind, General Motors launched a new campaign Super Bowl Sunday for its line of Fuel Flex Vehicles, cars that can operate on regular gasoline or E85 — a blend of 15 percent gasoline and 85 percent ethanol.

Ethanol is a fuel made from corn, wheat, barley and other starch products, and unlike its counterpart gasoline, it is a renewable resource that can be manufactured in the United States.

“It has a high octane, it helps our farmers and it helps our economy,” Michelle Kautz, director of Communications for the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition, said.

While ethanol may pose a better environmental alternative to gasoline, it isn’t necessarily cheaper.

Ethanol does not contain as much energy as gasoline does, and therefore, causes a loss of gas mileage.

Kautz said there is an estimated 5 to 12 percent loss of mileage when a car switches from gasoline to E85.

According to U.S. Department of Energy reports from September 2005, the national average for gasoline was $2.77 while the national average for E85 was $2.41. However, the DOE estimates that E85 has only 80 percent of the energy contained in gasoline. So, for E85 to be the same cost as gasoline to the consumer, E85 would have to sell for 80 percent of the regular gasoline price. If gasoline were $2.77 per gallon, E85 would have to sell for 80 percent of that, or $2.22.

Leslie Acrey, an attendant at the Bittersweet Bell-Mart in Mishawaka, Ind., said that at her station ethanol typically runs 30 cents cheaper per gallon than gasoline, but right now it’s only selling for 10 cents cheaper.

But Kautz said that the ethanol industry is still stabilizing from Hurricane Katrina, as well. After Hurricane Katrina hit, ethanol was added to regular gasoline, to make a mix of 90 percent gasoline and 10 percent ethanol. Since there are only roughly 130 ethanol plants around the country, it caused a pressing demand that spiked prices. Kautz said 33 more plants are expected to be built this year.

“We hope the price will decrease significantly,” Kautz said. “To make it a wash for consumers, it has to be cheaper to make up for the mileage.”

While the price of E85 is, at best, comparable to regular gasoline, two of the more obvious benefits are a lessened dependence on foreign oil and a cleaner environment, according to the NEVC.

“Besides its superior performance characteristics, ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline,” states the NEVC Web site. “It is a completely renewable, domestic, environmentally friendly fuel that enhances the nation’s economy and energy independence.”

One hiccough in a possible switch to E85 is that only 600 of the 170,000 filling stations in the U.S. sell E85, and some of the 600 stations that do sell it are privately owned with no public access.

But for many Americans, ethanol is still worth it.

“The people who like it love it,” said Acrey. Bell-Mart has been open for more than three months and it is one of just a few stations in the northern Indiana region that sells E85. Acrey said that her customers drive from 20 or 30 minutes away to buy E85.

E85 technology has been around for upwards of 15 years, and while all of the new 2006 GM cars will be FFVs, selected models of cars as old as 1998 are E85 compatible. Selected models of Ford, Chrysler, Isuzu, Mazda, Mercedes, Mercury and Nissan are FFVs. For a complete listing of E85 vehicles, visit www.e85fuel.com or check with the dealership.

Contact Alicia Wotring at aawotring@liberty.edu.


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