|By JANE HOUIN
WOOSTER, Ohio — On the heels of higher gas prices at the pump, major American auto manufacturers are throwing support behind ethanol as an alternative to petroleum fuels.
Ford Motor Co. recently announced the beginnings of a Midwest Ethanol Corridor to expand E85 availability in Illinois and Missouri by one-third, with other states to follow. And it would have been hard for any television viewer of the Torino Olympic games to miss the Go Yellow ad campaign GM pushed during the games.
“Ford is advancing innovative solutions to customer concerns over high gas prices and America’s over-dependence on foreign oil,” said Bill Ford, Ford Motor Co. CEO. “Ethanol is an innovative energy source straight from the heartland of America.”
E85 is a fuel blend that contains 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Ethanol is a completely renewable fuel that, in the United States, is most commonly made from corn. U.S. gasoline frequently contains up to 10 percent ethanol, but an increasing number of vehicles on the road today can operate on blends containing up to 85 percent ethanol.
To date, approximately 500 of the more than 180,000 fuel stations in the United States offer E85. According to the website e85vehicles.com
, those numbers include 65 such stations in Illinois, 14 in Indiana, four in Ohio, two in Kentucky, and one in Tennessee. Iowa has also legislated that every station in the state must be equipped to sell E85 within two years and has included financial incentives for retail stations to add E85 pumps.
The first phase in the creation of the Midwest ethanol corridor is to convert approximately 40 existing gasoline fuel pumps in Illinois and Missouri to E85.
The move will increase availability by approximately one-third this year. Ford will work with fuel providers and officials in other states to further develop the Midwest ethanol corridor.
Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich applauds Ford’s vision of helping to provide renewable energy. Since implementation of the Illinois Clean Energy Infrastructure Program, the number of E85 stations has increase from 14 to almost 100. Blagojevich anti-cipates that the expanded availability will make E85 even more cost effective for consumers.
Ford has produced flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs) for more than a decade, with more than 1.6 million on the road. Similarly, GM estimates that they have more than 1.5 million FFVs already on the road in all 50 states as well.
With the introduction of four new 2006 models that have the E85 option -including the Ford F-150 pickup, Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car - the company will produce up to 250,000 ethanol-capable vehicles in 2006. In 2006, GM will also produce more than 400,000 new FFVs that can run on either ethanol or gasoline.
Despite these seemingly high numbers, many local dealerships have relatively low percentages of FFVs, in part because of inadequate E85 support structure.
“Probably less than 10 percent of our vehicles are E85,” said Barb Klapp, a salesperson at Country Auto Center of Plymouth, Ind., which is a Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Cadillac dealership.
Klapp attributes that in part to the fact that there is only one E85 fueling location within 20 miles of Plymouth.
“Right now, it is not a major issue in selling a vehicle,” she said. “With more education and our dependency on foreign oil, it will become a major issue.”
Although automakers have been producing FFVs for years, the E85 infrastructure has not kept pace.
“For energy diversity to be a reality for our customers, there must be a growing infrastructure that is convenient for them,” said Anne Stevens, Ford Motor Co. executive vice president. “We are working to achieve this reality. Our focus is on infrastructure and to encourage retail fuel providers to incorporate E85 fuel options in their operations.”
Similarly, GM is working with a fuel supplier in California to increase its amount of E85 pumps, and in other states GM is working with government, fuel providers and retailers to increase E85 availability.
“We do have more customers inquiring about flex fuel,” said Klapp. “Overall, you can save more money per year in overall driving. It burns cleaner, provides greater horsepower, boosts engine performance, and provides more torque than standard gasoline. It is much more environmentally friendly.”
Benefits of using E85 include reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced dependence on petroleum, reduced smog-forming emissions, and support of U.S. agriculture according to GM. In September 2005, as gasoline prices reached record highs, E85 prices were as much as 60 cents less per gallon in some places.
“My opinion is that if it is something that we can produce and depend on the American farmer for, it can be the way to our future and lessen our need to depend on someone else,” Klapp said. “I like to see people become productive rather than counterproductive.”
One negative to the use of ethanol is that because E85 holds less energy per gallon than gasoline, drivers will experience fewer miles per gallon, depending on their vehicle and driving habits. That means that vehicles running on E85 may have a cruising range that is about 25 percent shorter than the same vehicle operating on regular gasoline.
Consumers can visit GM’s go yellow site at www.onlygm.com and use their “cornulator” to determine how many barrels of oil they would save each year by switching to various GM FFVs based on the miles they drive each year; the cornulator also calculates the number of corn cobs their vehicle choice would use each year as well.
This farm news was published in the March 1, 2006 issue of Farm World.