Big square baler harvesting wheat straw for production of cellulosic ethanolEnlarge Photo
Could low prices be the key to making ethanol more popular?
One Michigan filling station allows customers to change the ethanol-gasoline blend in their fuel. As customers "dial up" the amount of ethanol, the price goes down, WardsAuto reports.
Other stations offer multiple blends, with varying amounts of ethanol at varying prices.
Mike O'Brien, vice president-market development for Growth Energy--an organization representing ethanol producers--told Wards that lower prices will help ethanol-blended fuels gain traction with consumers.
However, while ethanol blended fuels like E15--a mix of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline--are cheaper, they have less energy per gallon, and hence return lower miles-per-gallon readings.
So while drivers pay less for ethanol, they also need to fill up more.
Pump with multiple ethanol/gasoline blends.Enlarge Photo
O'Brien told Wards that E15 reduces mileage by 1.5 percent compared to E10, but that it's 2.5 percent cheaper.
Drivers will notice a bigger loss of fuel efficiency when switching to blends with more ethanol, such as E85.
That's why the EPA releases two sets of fuel economy ratings for flex-fuel vehicles, which can run on either conventional E10 gasoline or the ethanol-heavy E85.
Ethanol's potential effects on older vehicles and smaller engines never designed for it also continue to be controversial.
Last December, the AAA came out against ethanol, saying that only 5 percent of light-duty vehicles on U.S. roads were compatible with the fuel. The EPA says E15 is safe for all 2001 or later vehicles.
Andy Randolph, engine technical director for Earnhardt Childress Racing, said the EPA reasoning was sound because newer cars have exhaust sensors that can adjust the air/fuel ratio.
He told Wards that all 2001 or newer cars can use E15--whether the manufacturers explicitly recommend it or not.
If ethanol doesn't hurt their cars, drivers may be more willing to try blends with more of the biofuel if it saves them money. At least, that's the hope of its marketers.
Will it work? Will gasoline buyers be willing to try E15--or even higher ethanol blends--if they're cheaper per gallon?
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