YOUNGSTOWN – As the U.S. scrambles to find a solution to rocketing gas prices, one word has given Americans hope a that an empty tank won’t always lead to an empty wallet.
While ethanol has been around for decades, it’s just recently captured the attention of millions of drivers. Like anything new, ethanol has faced its share of criticism, but forums across Ohio have focused on promoting the product and its benefits.
Here to learn. One forum was held Aug. 10 at Greenwood Hummer in Youngstown. The session highlighted E85 and flex fuel vehicles.
E85 is a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Flex fuel vehicles are vehicles that can operate on either E85, unleaded gasoline or any combination of the two.
There are 101 ethanol plants in 20 states in the U.S., according to Tadd Nicholson of the Ohio Corn Growers Association.
Although Ohio doesn’t have any operating ethanol plants yet, the state has four under construction with at least two more on the way.
“Ethanol represents the largest potential increase in the use of corn,” Nicholson said, adding that 40 of those 101 operating plants are owned by farmers.
We’re waiting. Nationally, this renewable fuel is making its way to the retail market, but northeast Ohioans don’t have a convenient place to fill up on E85 just yet. The closest pump is in Wooster, but Sam Spofforth of Clean Fuels Ohio says it’s only a matter of time.
“It’s going to be coming in the not-too-distant future,” he said.
Right now, the cost of ethanol varies from place to place and in some locations it’s the same or more than regular unleaded gasoline.
But Spofforth predicts the higher prices won’t last.
As more plants are built, the price will drop. And once it’s down, it’s predicted to stay in a range that’s 30-40 cents per gallon cheaper than unleaded gasoline.
Also, ethanol hasn’t increased the cost of gasoline as some predicted it would. It’s less expensive than other additives and a report from the Consumer Federation of America said all drivers could save up to 8 cents per gallon if petroleum marketers would blend more ethanol into gasoline.
Flex fuel vehicles. In order to use E85, drivers need a flex fuel vehicle. Unfortunately for drivers without a fuel flex vehicle, there’s no way to convert it to run on E85. Today’s vehicles can run on E10 (a blend of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline), but E85 is recommended only in flex fuel vehicles, according to Jerry Leanderson of General Motors.
He added there is little or no additional cost when comparing flex fuel vehicles to vehicles without flex fuel capabilities.
As for benefits to farmers, studies show corn prices are typically 5-10 cents higher in areas with an ethanol plant. Plus, ethanol plants gives rural economies a boost, according to Nicholson.
A 2005 study found the ethanol industry in the U.S. created 147,00 new jobs and increased household income by $4.4 billion.
Energy. Another concern with ethanol is energy. Nicholson said it’s a common misconception that ethanol takes more energy to produce than it contributes. However, research has found that for every 100 BTUs of energy used to make ethanol, 167 BTUs of energy are produced.
Not only that, but the net energy balance of ethanol is getting better as ethanol and corn production become more efficient.
Although there’s no silver bullet when it comes to decreasing dependence on foreign oil, Leanderson said, powering vehicles with ethanol is one way to begin solving the problem.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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Did you know?
More than one-third of all gasoline sold in the U.S. contains ethanol.
Fuel with 10 percent ethanol has been certified by the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce carbon monoxide emissions by up to 30 percent.
Since 1981, nearly 300 billion gallons of ethanol blends have been used in the U.S. With an average mileage of 20 miles per gallon, that’s more than 6 trillion miles courtesy of ethanol.
(Source: American Coalition for Ethanol)
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