New fuel not cost efficient

Nov 122006
Authors: Jeremy Trujillo

“Live Green, Go Yellow.” That’s the slogan American auto manufacturer General Motors has chosen to accompany its new E85 fuel and “flex fuel” vehicles campaigns.

And while GM and other companies around the nation are hyping the benefits of E85, some of us are scratching our heads, asking “why?” Why would we pay for a gasoline alternative that costs more, offers less efficiency and is not as readily available?

E85 is a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline by volume. In the United States, corn is the preferred source for ethanol production. Because its ingredients can be grown, ethanol has been viewed as a save-all for our nation’s thirsty dependence on foreign oil.

And while proponents of this new “flex fuel” tout the environmentally-friendly aspects as opposed to burning 100 percent gasoline in automobiles, don’t go speeding to the local Conoco station carrying E85 just yet.

Because E85 is a new concept in the United States, the disadvantages to ethanol-based fuels are quite large.

According to an article published in USA Today, “the price of higher than that of gasoline, even though E85 has only 72 percent as much energy.” That means that consumers are spending more but getting less.

In addition, a study conducted by the American Coalition for Ethanol found that as the ratio of ethanol to gasoline used in a car’s fuel increases, the car’s fuel economy (miles per gallon) decreases. That’s coming from an organization pushing for widespread use of E85.

Another disappointing downside to ethanol use in automobiles is its availability, or lack thereof.

Currently, only 14 fuel stations in Colorado stock E85. What’s more, only 1,000 fuel stations in the entire nation do the same.

The reason availability and cost are issues is due to the transport methods available to move this new fuel. To date, no pipeline exists anywhere in the world to carry E85, even though nations such as Brazil and Sweden have been using ethanol as a fuel for more than 15 years.

Because of its corrosive nature in high concentrations, current pipeline infrastructure used for the moving of gasoline cannot be used to do the same for E85. It must be transported by rail and truck anywhere it is offered, adding to the bottom line cost.

So, other than E85, what alternative to gasoline exists? Biodiesel, baby. That’s right. Diesel. Biodiesel is another type of biofuel that is produced from soybeans. Unlike E85, vehicles using biodiesel do not see a decrease in fuel efficiency and it is more readily available. Also, no conversion is needed for a diesel engine to run on a blend of diesel and soy-based biodiesel, and the cost is about the same as regular diesel.

The number of vehicles on U.S. highways today that can accept biodiesel are far more than the number that can accept E85. Even projected production numbers of flex-fuel vehicles pale in comparison to the yearly production of diesels. Like E85, this fuel also reduces vehicle emissions and is a product of the U.S. agricultural economy.

Perhaps it is best if we as a country look into other sources of renewable energy rather than flock to the first glimmer of hope. Until I am able drive the same distance on E85 for what I’m paying for gasoline, I’m not buying.

Maybe by “Live Green” GM really meant, “Here is a new way to spend more money.”

Jeremy Trujillo is a junior speech communication and political science double major. His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to

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