State needs more E85 pumps

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LANSING — For ethanol to become the fuel of the future, it has to start at the pump.

General Motors Vice Chair, Tom Stephens said more ethanol gas pumps are needed to keep supplying flexible fuel vehicles for drivers.

Stephens noted that the majority of flex fuels, which use E85, are in populous regions on the East and West coasts, but the majority of E85 pumps are in the Midwest. E85 is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

Around 90 percent of all registered drivers who own flexible fuel cars don’t have ethanol pumps in their ZIP code and half of them don’t have ethanol pumps in their county, he said.

In Michigan, 99 E85 fueling locations were reported as of October 2009.

Tom Welch, of the U.S. Department of Energy, agrees that more ethanol pumps are needed around the country.

“The supply needs to catch up with the demand,” Welch said.

GM has worked with the National Governors Association and ethanol retailers to install 300 additional pumps, Stephens said.

Cindy Zimmerman, editor of online publishing site Domestic Fuel, said the Department of Energy gives federal money to stations and states to put in E85 or blender pumps that store different blends of ethanol.

Tim Shireman, alternative fuel program manager at the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, said incentives tax credits are available to qualified gas stations supplying ethanol.

The tax credit in Michigan goes to gas station owners to install E85 new equipment or convert existing equipment, Shireman said.

Michigan’s current business tax credits cover 30 percent of actual cost or $20,000. Federal tax credits are up to half or $50,000, he said.

Kirk McCauley, director of member relations of the national Service Station Dealers Association, said gas station owners must get government and refinery company approval but it’s not economical now.

McCauley agreed that more ethanol pumps need to be installed but said ethanol isn’t a magic trick to solve all fuel supplies problems.

“Ethanol isn’t more efficient than gas,” McCauley said. “It has 75 percent of the power of gasoline. The only difference is it’s greener and better for the environment.”

Shireman of DELEG said ethanol is unlikely to completely address gas mileage problems but it’s a piece of the puzzle.

“E85 has a place with other fuels today, tomorrow and future,” said Shireman.

In the United States, the primary source of ethanol is corn. Ethanol is 200 proof alcohol, made from fermentation of starch that burns more completely than gasoline alone.

Today, the majority of fuel is E10, which is 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline. Ethanol is blended into more than 50 percent of the nation’s fuel supply.

Jody Pollok–Newsom, executive director of Michigan Corn, said ethanol could bring opportunities to the state.

“This is an opportunity to grow the state’s economy,” said Pollok-Newsom. “Last year, 250 million gallons of ethanol was produced in Michigan.”

According to Michigan Corn, the state has four ethanol plants. Ethanol has boosted the state’s economy by nearly $500 million, created more than 3,000 jobs and increased household income by more than $200 million.

Pollok–Newsom said in 2009, the state saved $250 million by using ethanol rather than foreign oil and the money saved can create jobs and economic growth in the state,.

“That’s huge, to use money left over for our communities, said Pollok–Newsom.

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