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A Penny Saved? Ethanol May Cost Less, But It Takes More To Get By

Corn2Hat tip to the kind reader who forwarded this in-depth piece from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on the efficiency of ethanol-fueled state vehicles. Makes you wonder whether Indiana finds itself in a similar situation.

"When it comes to filling the tanks of state-owned cars and trucks, Missouri is on an ethanol binge.

"In just a few years, the state has bought hundreds of flex-fuel cars capable of running on either gas or an 85 percent blend of ethanol. Not surprisingly, state consumption of so-called E85 fuel has skyrocketed, jumping fourfold in just three years.

"While the state's thirst for the corn-based fuel may be helping farmers and reducing oil imports, it is probably costing taxpayers thousands of dollars. And that's almost certainly the case in Illinois and other states.

"The culprit: lower gas mileage.

"According to one federal estimate, cars using E85 may see an average drop in fuel efficiency of as much as 30 percent.

"Supporters of the fuel point out that it's generally less expensive than gas. Missouri officials say they believe those discounts are making up for most, if not all, of the loss in gas mileage.

"But experts say the fuel is rarely priced low enough to make using it cost-effective.

"'It's consistently sold for more on a price-per-mile basis,' said Bruce Dale, an ethanol expert at Michigan State University.

"Just how much fuel mileage is lost using E85 is in dispute. Federal and auto industry estimates range from 15 to 30 percent, depending on the car model and driving conditions.

"Missouri's own data suggest that the state is probably not buying E85 at enough of a discount to justify the loss in gas mileage. In fact, for every dollar the state is saving on the fuel, it could be spending as much as $2 extra toward more frequent fill-ups.

"According to the annual report by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the state paid about 14 percent less than it would have for gas for 299,155 gallons of E85 it bought between July 1, 2005, and June 30, 2006.

"But the same report acknowledges that E85 cuts gas mileage by 29 percent."


Thanks for this!

We know that ethanol is neither economically nor energy efficient. We give subsidies to (largely corporate) farmers and corporations which are involved in alternative energies. (On the former, have you seen the Environmental Working Group's amazing data set? http://farm.ewg.org/farm/) On top of that, we have a $.54 tariff on Brazilian ethanol.

More brilliance from both sides of the Congressional aisle...

Corn and Bean Ethanol is a joke. Sure lets use a product we use for food to drive up cost on everything that uses it. Hemp seed oil is the only way for ethanol to be produced cost effectively.

What they said!

The article focused on purchase and operation of state vehicles – both in Missouri and neighboring Illinois – that are flex-fuel, able to run on either ethanol-based E85 or gasoline. It raised doubts on the cost-effectiveness of E85 because the fuel achieves lower fuel economy than a typical gasoline might. Please note all fuels have differing energy densities that will result in differences in fuel economy. For example, gasoline provides fewer miles per gallon than diesel fuel. In 2007, E85 in our region has ranged in price from 30 to 70 cents per gallon less than 87-octane gasoline. On any given day, E85 may or may not provide pennies-per-gallon savings to the consumer. We hope people will not lose sight of the long-term environmental, economic and energy security benefits provided by these new fuels, which are produced closer to home.

Reporter Matthew Franck asks legitimate questions, but on the wrong topic. The intent of the U.S. Energy Policy Act and a growing number of state initiatives requiring state fleets to add alternative fuel vehicles, such as flex-fuel vehicles (which cost no more than gasoline-only models), was to have our government fleets “model the way” for citizens and industry; to reduce our dependence on petroleum; and to help build the market for emerging home-grown (closer-to-home) options. The pollution reduction benefits of fuels like E85 and biodiesel alone are worth the relatively small investment we make today.

The American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest has no doubts about E85 – our research shows it to be a Clean Air Choice™ we encourage all flex-fuel vehicle drivers to make at the pump. In short, we applaud the states of Missouri and Illinois and all others that make the move to E85-powered flex-fuel vehicles and other new fuel technologies. To learn more about E85 and flex fuel vehicles, visit www.CleanAirChoice.org

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