Interesting article about Flex-Fuel and Ethanol
Ethanol gains momentum but needs more pumps
Automotive News / February 20, 2006 - 6:00 am
President Bush wants it. Congress passed a law calling for more of it. Automakers are promoting it.
Now drivers need a place to get it.
Of the nation's 168,987 gasoline stations, only 608 offer ethanol pumps for flexible-fuel vehicles.
But momentum is building for E85 -- the blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline -- as a way to reduce the nation's reliance on imported oil and a way to reduce tailpipe emissions.
E85-capable flexible-fuel vehicles, or FFVs, that run on either gasoline or an ethanol mix have been available since the mid-1990s. Automakers already have produced about 5 million FFVs in the United States. But because there are so few E85 pumps, not many vehicles actually run on the home-grown fuel.
Opinions differ over how fast the ethanol infrastructure can expand.
The number of filling stations selling E85 will increase slowly, and most will be in the Midwest, says John Hartmann, a petroleum equipment consultant in McHenry, Ill. Hartmann says he believes E85 eventually will become a mainstream fuel.
"It takes 15 years for one fuel to take the place of another fuel. That was the case with unleaded (gasoline)," he says.
This month, both General Motors and Ford Motor Co. launched initiatives that will increase the number of E85 pumps in the Midwest.
Ford will help fund the installation of E85 pumps in Illinois and Missouri, and GM will try to raise consumer awareness of E85 through marketing and advertising.
"If you look right now, there's a lot of talk about flexible-fuel vehicles. You are seeing ads for them on TV," says Al Mannato, fuel issues manager for the American Petroleum Institute. "Well, the reality is, there are millions of these vehicles out there, but there is no demand for this product."
The ethanol toolbox
The ethanol used to make E85 comes mostly from corn. One bushel of corn produces 2.8 gallons of ethanol. The corn is ground into a powder, which is treated with water, enzymes and ammonia. It is heated and stirred, then cooled before yeast is added. That starts the process of converting sugars in the "mash" into alcohol. There are a few more steps before the ethanol is ready to be mixed with gasoline.
The bottom line: Making E85 is an energy-intensive process. Researchers are divided over whether ethanol is an energy loser. It can be if the corn has to be shipped long distances to an ethanol plant. Much of the cost-effectiveness of producing ethanol depends on where the refinery is. In Brazil, many of the refineries are located where sugar cane -- another source for ethanol -- is grown, reducing transportation costs.
The ethanol is trucked in pure form to petroleum terminals, where it is mixed with gasoline and then delivered to the 608 filling stations.
Brazil, which is expected to wean itself from oil imports this year, has been burning ethanol made from sugar cane since the first fuel crisis of the 1970s. Prices below $20 per barrel of oil for many years forced the Brazilian government to subsidize ethanol production.
But gains in technology brought down the cost of ethanol production. Now Brazil earns export dollars selling the fuel to other countries.
Of Brazil's 16.5 million vehicles, more than 4.3 million run on ethanol. About 75 percent of all vehicles sold there in 2006 will be FFVs.
In the United States, 98 plants were capable of producing about 4 billion gallons of ethanol a year as of November, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.
Four billion gallons sounds like a lot, but it's a small drop in the nation's gas tank. Americans use roughly 140 billion gallons of gasoline annually.
Under the schedule set out in the Energy Policy Act, which was signed by President Bush on Aug. 5, the government projects ethanol production will rise to 7.5 billion gallons a year by 2012. Several ethanol producers, such as Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Cargill Inc., are boosting production. The administration hopes tax credits for ethanol producers and for fuel station operators who install ethanol pumps will create incentives to make the fuel more available.
The cost to add an E85 pump to a station could range from a few dollars to change the signs on the pump to as much as $240,000 if a new tank needs to be installed along with a new pump, according to Shell Oil Co.
VeraSun Energy of Brookings, S.D., is the nation's second-largest producer of ethanol and has partnered with GM and Ford to expand the availability of E85.
"We believe we will see more pumps put outside the Midwest in the very near future," said Bill Honnef, VeraSun's vice president of sales and marketing. "When the president says E85 is one avenue that can reduce oil imports, it certainly gets people's attention."
As of December, E85 was available in 36 states, with a majority of the fuel pumps concentrated in Minnesota, Illinois, Nebraska and the Dakotas.
The ethanol CAFE
GM, Ford, DaimlerChrysler and Nissan offer flexible-fuel vehicles that can run on either E85 or gasoline. Ford has been building FFVs since 1993 and has made more than 1.6 million. GM plans to put about 400,000 FFVs on the road in 2006.
Automakers have a strong motivation for offering FFVs. They can claim Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, credits of up to 1.2 mpg. Those credits help them avoid fines for selling vehicles with poor fuel economy.
Enabling a vehicle to burn E85 isn't an expensive undertaking, says Chris Meagher, GM assistant chief engineer of small-block engines.
All that is needed are new higher-capacity fuel injectors, fuel lines made of stainless steel instead of aluminum and new computer software that keeps the engine running properly on the higher-octane fuel.
E85 is rated at 105 to 113 octane, compared with 87 for regular gasoline. Depending on the vehicle, a different fuel tank might be needed.
E85's higher octane can add horsepower, Meagher says. But because the energy contained in E85 is lower than that of gasoline, fuel economy drops between 5 and 15 percent.
The pump price for E85 varies from state to state because of taxes, subsidies and other factors.
I think the picture will change in the years to come, and as the production of E85 vehicles rises...we shall wait and see. It is also interesting to look at the differences in octane numbers, and the interests in the fuel from GM and the domestic brands, they need this now more than ever.
What's the use of happiness? It can't buy you money.