Can State Be Leader In Alternative Fuels

August 18, 2006
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MUSKEGON — Congressman Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland, would like to see Michigan become a leader in alternative energy.

To do that however, the state needs innovation and advances in energy-saving automotive technology from leading automotive companies, he told a gathering at the Michigan Alternative and RenewableEnergyCenter

“It would be great if in any certain technology we could take the lead,” said Hoekstra, following the presentation that he organized. “This area is known for innovation.”

Hoekstra said anything to do with automotive technology would be beneficial, as would renewable energy. He cited GrandValleyStateUniversity’s energy center in Muskegon as an opportunity for collaboration and leadership. Imad Mahawili, executive director of the center, has already been working on collaborations with companies and organizations to resolve energy issues.

“If we can get some focus on some industry and it evolves, then Michigan takes the lead in something. That would be great,” he said.

Representatives of Daimler Chrysler Corp., General Motors Corp., Volkswagen of America Inc. and Ford Motor Co. discussed what their companies were doing to help conserve energy.

“People believe we’re in a crisis mode,” Hoekstra said of gas prices and issues concerning BP’s work on its oil lines in Alaska, as well as unrest in the Middle East

With 60 percent of the United States’ oil supply coming from what Hoekstra referred to as an “ugly neighborhood,” he said reducing the country’s dependence on foreign oil is a security issue as well as an environmental issue.

Instead, Hoekstra said Americans need to work together to find more ways to be more independent and import 20 percent to 25 percent, rather than 60 percent.

Max Gates, spokesman for Daimler Chrysler, said he was impressed with Muskegon’s availability of E-85 fuel, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. He said he saw five service stations where it was available — about one-quarter of all the filling stations selling E-85 in Michigan

“It’s good to see the people of Muskegon jumping in whole-heartedly and making fuel available,” he said.

DaimlerChrysler has released 260,000 alternative fuel vehicles with the 2007 model year and there are plans for 500,000 in the 2008 model year, Gates said. Among those will be a diesel version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

There also are plans for research collaboration with MichiganStateUniversity, studying crops for alternative fuel sources, such as soybeans, corn, sunflowers and switch grass.

Norbert Krause, director of the engineering and environmental office at Volkswagen of America, said his company’s major focus is on clean diesel passenger vehicles in the United States. Krause said the penetration of the clean diesels in the United States is small but growing.

Kathleen McIntyre, manager for economic development and government affairs at Ford, said she has never seen a fuel enjoy as rapid a rise as E-85 has, with new initiatives keeping Michigan on the leading edge.

With the increased popularity of the fuel, McIntyre said the state needs more stations that have E-85 available. There are currently only 700 stations where it is available in the country, with fewer than 20 in Michigan, she said.

“We also need businesses and others who are ready to tackle the initiative head on,” she said.

McIntyre said she believes Michigan can be the leader in E-85 fuels.

“Energy independence is simply too important to proceed any other way,” she said.

Alan Weverstad, executive director of General Motors’ Environmental and Energy Public Policy Center, said his company is looking to utilize E-85 technology as well.

“We want to implement propulsion technology that improves fuel efficiency and reduces environmental impact,” he said.

Weverstad said there are some challenges with E-85 besides availability, such as more volume of liquid needed and near-term pricing issues. With new ways of producing E-85, Weverstad said, the pricing issues can be resolved with a 64 percent energy benefit.

General Motors is working to inform consumers about E-85 and using new yellow gas caps on vehicles that can run on the fuel source. It’s also promoting a “Live Yellow, Go Green” campaign in several states, including Michigan

The company also has partnerships with state governments, including Michigan, and various other organizations and businesses. In Michigan, General Motors is partnering with Meijer Inc. and CleanFuelUSA.

“We now have states calling us, saying, ‘We want to be state No. 10.’”   

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