In the not too distant future, CSU students and other Fort Collins residents will be able to gas up their Ford Explorers or Chevy Impalas and a host of other vehicles with a fuel source called ethanol.
Unlike unleaded gasoline or diesel, ethanol is considered eco-friendly because it is made with agricultural crops such as corn, wheat or sugar and burns clear into the atmosphere.
This bio-fuel, which has been produced commercially since 1947, is working its way to Northern Colorado because of an engineering firm called ICM Inc. This firm is currently constructing a $60 million ethanol plant in Windsor for Front Range Energy.
Dan Sanders, Front Range Energy manager, said in a phone interview Thursday that ethanol stations could reach Fort Collins by the end of the year.
This news has two former CSU graduates – now Republican lawmakers in Denver – thrilled about the potential for cleaner air in the state.
"We lessen our dependency on foreign oil with every kernel of corn transformed to ethanol," Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, said in an e-mail interview this week.
"As a matter of national security and to enhance and protect the environment, we must also move toward greater use of renewable energy," Gardner added.
Senator Greg Brophy, R-Wray, affirmed his support for ethanol in a written statement released last week but, along with Gardner, reiterated the ongoing need for the development of additional domestic fuel resources.
"Colorado and the United States would do well to promote the production and technological development of ethanol fuel but this is not enough. Responsible development of untapped petroleum resources within our borders would be best for American interests on the whole…" according to Brophy's statement.
The Windsor plant offers promise in this direction, said Don Hill, ICM's supervisor at the construction site located about 19 miles southeast of Fort Collins.
The 10-acre plant is located on 40 acres that used to be, ironically, a cornfield that was leveled to make room for the site. Other cornfields continue to surround the location, and a Kodak factory sits nearby.
Hill said construction on the plant started in the last week of September and was a direct result of the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which mandates that production of biofuels such as ethanol must triple by the year 2012.
Turning corn into ethanol takes a process called Dry Milling. The corn is first grinded into grits, then heated in tanks and turned into a liquid starch. This odorless, clear liquid starch is then mixed with yeast and fermented into a beer-like liquid. It then gets dehydrated, distilled and mixed with a small amount of gasoline to produce the final product.
The idea of an ethanol-fueled vehicle interests Ashley Thomas, a sophomore technical journalism major (CQ)cm. While ethanol-powered vehicles have similar warranties to gas-powered cars, cars running on corn may be slightly more expensive than their gas-powered competitors, according to National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition (NEVC).
"I would definitely have a car that is slightly more expensive if it was more environmentally friendly," Thomas said.
The Windsor plant is the third ethanol plant to be built in Colorado, according to the NEVC's Web site. One exists in Golden and another was built by ICM in Sterling.
While Thomas could not discuss exact amounts due to company policy, Front Range Energy believes the Windsor site is expected to turn a profit within the first year. The money will be made by selling ethanol to refineries and stations in Denver and Western states.
"The plant is going to make about 40 million gallons of ethanol a year, which is about midrange in size (for an ethanol plant)," Hill said.
Currently, the nearest location to Fort Collins to purchase ethanol is about 35 miles away in east Greeley off U.S. Highway 85. The fuel station, Cenex Ampride, offers unleaded gasoline, diesel and ethanol, also known as E85. As of Thursday afternoon, the price of E85 was $1.99 per gallon, compared to $2.22 for regular unleaded and $2.64 for diesel.
There are more than six million cars on the road that can utilize ethanol. The National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition's Web site at e85fuel.com lists the compatible vehicles.
Gardner, the state representative from Yuma, sees more than clear, bluer skies with increased ethanol use.
"Ethanol is a home grown product; we grow it and refine it within the four corners of our state," Gardner said. "Jobs and markets are created right here at home and we are boosting the rural economy while making a positive step forward for the environment."