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E-85 in the limelight, for better or worse

Agriculture.com Staff 02/15/2006 @ 10:11am

To advocates of E-85 fuel (85% ethanol and 15% gasoline) it might seem like the industry is facing a public relations disaster.

Just as Ford and General Motors are building more flex-fuel trucks and cars that can burn the stuff, it's suddenly expensive. Here's a headline from the Money section of the February 15 USA Today: "Cost of E85 fuel is higher than gasoline."

The writer found wholesale E-85 running about 67-68 cents a gallon more than straight gasoline. That's before tax credits for ethanol are deducted, however. Our own check with a Kum & Go station in Ankeny, Iowa on February 15 found unleaded gas at $2.06 a gallon and E-85 still slightly lower, at 1.93. That's not a great bargain if you look at mileage alone. Older flex-fuel vehicles especially will not go as far on a gallon of E-85 as on gasoline. E-85 has about 30% less Btus and most flex-fuel vehicle owners get 10-15% less mileage on it.

Brian Jennings, executive director of the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, thinks the industry may have made a mistake to put too much emphasis on E-85's history of selling for as much as 70 cents a gallon less than unleaded gasoline in the Upper Midwest.

"When we go around telling everybody we're going to be cheaper than unleaded gasoline, we're shooting ourselves in the foot," Jennings says. "It's significantly better for air quality. It significantly displaces petroleum and obviously it's home grown."

Still, most consumers are price driven, Jennings concedes.

To advocates of E-85 fuel (85% ethanol and 15% gasoline) it might seem like the industry is facing a public relations disaster.

That problem for consumers isn't going to last long, he and others in the industry say.

That's exactly the focus at the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition based in Jefferson City, Missouri. It encourages the use of E-85 and provides information to consumers.

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