States Slow to Pump Up Ethanol

  • As the price of gasoline rises, many states are looking for alternatives. One of those alternatives is the ethanol blend, E-85. But, some states (like Ohio) are not keeping up with the trend. (Photo by Lester Graham)

The federal government is focusing new attention on research and development of ethanol. Some states – especially those in the corn belt – are getting into the act too. The GLRCs Karen Kasler reports:


The federal government is focusing new attention on research and
development of ethanol. Some states – especially those in the corn belt –
are getting into the act too. The GLRC’s Karen Kasler reports:

Now that gasoline is near or above three dollars a gallon, ethanol seems
to be everywhere. The Renewable Fuels Association says more than a
third of the gasoline in the U.S is blended with ethanol, an alcohol based
fuel made with the sugar found in corn and other grains. A 10 percent
ethanol/gasoline blend can be used in every vehicle on the road, but
many politicians and consumers are very interested in the 85 percent
ethanol blend – E-85 – as an alternative fuel for cars and trucks. But
getting E-85 to drivers who have cars which can use it isn’t that easy.

Tadd Nicholson with the Ohio Corn Growers Association, says part of
the problem is the big oil companies have banned E-85 pumps under the
canopies at branded stations.

“Oil companies don’t own ethanol production. They own oil refining,
and so that’s their profit center and that’s where they get their fuel and so
they have a lot of control over that. They don’t own ethanol. I don’t
know why. They should, but they aren’t in the ethanol ownership
business yet. I say ‘yet’.”

The governors of Wisconsin and Minnesota have asked the big oil
companies to change their E-85 policy, and some states have been
encouraging independent gasoline dealers to put in E-85 pumps for a few

But others, such as Ohio, have been lagging behind in the trend. Only
recently has Ohio launched a new energy action plan that sounds
ambitious, when it comes to providing access to ethanol to drivers.

LeeAnn Mizer is with the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

“The goal is to triple the amount of E-85 pumps available to Ohio
consumers by the end of 2006.”

That sounds like a lot – but it’s not, says Dwayne Seikman heads up the
Ohio Corn Growers Association.

“Tripling’s a nice start. There’s six… that would go to 18. But with over
150,000 vehicles in the state of Ohio, that’s not enough to cover the

Since corn is Ohio’s top crop… it would seem to make sense. But unlike
other states in the corn belt, there are no ethanol plants in operation in
Ohio, though there are at least three under construction, and ethanol
supporters say the state is way behind its neighbors when it comes to
getting ethanol pumps at service stations.

Sam Spofforth is executive director of Clean Fuels Ohio.

“I’ll be honest, we’d like to see a lot more and we think a lot more is
certainly very possible. Indiana, they’re up to about 25 to 30 stations.
Illinois has over a hundred. Minnesota has almost 200 at this point.
Even places like Arizona are putting in E-85. They don’t make any corn
in Arizona. We think Ohio can do a lot more.”

Some critical studies have found that ethanol has a high energy cost with
low benefits – ethanol supporters say that’s been debunked. Whether
ethanol makes economic or ecological sense or not is still not certain.
But one thing is certain – cars using ethanol blends need to fill up more
than those using regular unleaded gasoline.

Robert White with the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition says that’s
offset because typically ethanol-blended fuels cost less than regular
unleaded gas.

“Well, no doubt the fuel economy is the only negative with E-85, and we
tell folks that is where the price differential hopefully is there to make
E-85 use a wash.”

Part of the reason the price is lower is because the ethanol industry is
heavily subsidized by the government. Those lower costs would quickly
disappear if the subsidies were removed. Because ethanol is cleaner
burning, many support further development and use of the renewable

General Motors is increasing the number of vehicles it produces that can
burn ethanol. Ford already produces E-85 burning cars and trucks.
However, many believe for ethanol production to be truly efficient,
farmers will have to start growing crops such as switch grass for ethanol
because corn requires too much fossil fuel based fertilizer and other
inputs to make it a permanent solution.

For GLRC, I’m Karen Kasler.

Related Links