NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 2, 2006

The pitch to run our cars and trucks on alcohol fuel sounds irresistible: It would eliminate most U.S. gasoline consumption; avoid the costs, delays and environmental impact of new oil refineries; and keep control of our fuel in America and out of often-hostile foreign hands.

Ethanol fuel -- in the form of E85, a mix of 85 percent grain alcohol and 15 percent gasoline-- is the only one of those immediately available. E85, using ethanol made in the United States from corn, isn't a science experiment or pipe dream. It's real fuel, sold now, and 5 million vehicles already are on the road with the systems needed to burn it.

Yet, there are drawbacks, says USA Today:

  • Only 500 fuel stations sell E85 and most of those are in the lightly populated Midwest, which grows the corn to make the alcohol. The heavily populated coasts have only a few E85 outlets, and most are reserved for private fleets.
  • Only specially outfitted cars and trucks can use E85. They are roughly 2 percent of all vehicles on the road, leaving Americans to replace the other 98 percent with new vehicles that have the corrosion-resistant fuel systems, special fuel injectors, sensors and computer controls, and hardened and coated engine parts necessary to survive alcohol's corrosive onslaught and compensate for lower energy content.
  • You'd have to fill up more often. You'd be at the pump every four or five days instead of once a week. Ethanol contains about two-thirds as much energy as gasoline.

Despite the barriers, the ethanol and auto industries are keen on E85's promise. "E85 is going to be a much more significant market for us down the road," RFA's Dinneen says. "But you have to get more vehicles on the road that can use E85, and you need more outlets."

Source: James R. Healey, "Is ethanol the answer? Despite Bush's plea, switching to alternative fuels is slowed by scarcity and the fact that you'd need to buy a new car or truck," USA Today, February 2, 2006.


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