GM & Governors Push for More Biofuel Stations

July 14, 2008
By the end of the year, there will be somewhere in the range of 10 million American vehicles on the road capable of running on alternative - and mostly renewable - fuels. That's the good news. The bad news is that the vast majority of those cars, trucks, and crossovers continue to run exclusively on gasoline.

Almost all of those vehicles are capable of running on ethanol, or at least the 85 percent alcohol/15 percent gasoline mix known as E85. But finding that blend can be confounding for even the most green-minded motorist. At the moment, industry experts estimate, no more than 1,700 of the nation's 170,000 service stations have E85 pumps.

While that's a big increase - on a percentage basis - from just two years ago, when the figure was somewhere around 600 to 700 E85 pumps, ethanol proponents have been frustrated and are looking for ways to sharply ramp up the rollout of the renewable fuel. A new partnership between General Motors and the National Governors Association could help.

"As we face this current energy crisis, we must do more to Americanize our energy sources and reduce our dependence on foreign oil," Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said during the opening of the NGA's annual meeting. "An important part of that effort is promoting the use of homegrown alternatives. This collaboration with GM will help increase the availability of E85 around the country, providing more consumer choice and moving us toward a more secure energy future."

The partners aren't setting a specific pump target. GM said it will help the organization - and its member governors - target the best locations for new E85 outlets. They have a long way to go to meet the goals of the energy bill passed by Congress last year. It calls for the country to use 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022, several times current levels.

For their part, the Big Three Detroit makers have promised to equip at least half their vehicles - by 2012 - to be able to run on E85, gasoline, or any blend in between.

Not everyone is pleased by the focus on alcohol fuels. Some experts have blamed the diversion of food crops, such as corn, for the recent run-up in global food prices. Meanwhile, there's concern that in some parts of the world, such as Indonesia and Brazil, rain forests are being cut down to make way for new croplands in order to produce, corn, sugar, palms, and other renewable fuel sources.

One alternative gaining traction is cellulosic ethanol, which can create the alcohol fuel from non-food sources, such as forestry scraps. GM has announced investments in several of the start-up companies that hope to produce this form of E85.

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