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Lamberty Report: Why Not an FFV "Superfund"?
by Ron Lamberty

The solution to getting consumers to use more ethanol and less gasoline seems fairly simple – or at least fairly obvious: make more vehicles available that can burn higher percentages of ethanol, and make more high percentage blends of ethanol available at gas stations.

The discussion of which is needed more urgently is often described as a “chicken or egg” situation, but that isn’t really accurate. An egg comes from a chicken and chickens come from eggs, but we don’t have any idea which one was first. You can be certain, however, that gas stations didn’t put in equipment to sell E85 hoping that someone would build a car that could use it.

Car companies have hesitated to make more flex-fuel vehicles, lamenting that we need more E85 stations. Gas station owners can’t understand why anyone expects them to spend more money to install a pump that only four in a hundred cars could use, and even fewer actually do use. The beauty of a flex-fuel vehicle is that it can use gasoline, ethanol, or any combination of the two. That is also the feature that makes it unnecessary for a station to offer E85. Everyone can use the unleaded pump – only a few can use E85.

The “BYOethanol” program was started in clear recognition of those factors. If we can use financial incentives to encourage station owners to put in pumps that everyone can use – from E0 to E85 – we will have more locations that make E85 available. If they install blender pumps, consumers have more flex-fuel options, and people who might not want to try E85 might “sample” more ethanol by using E30, and perhaps move up the ethanol scale over time.

Gaining approval of higher ethanol blends in existing vehicles can help increase the sense of urgency for petroleum marketers to make more blends available, but ultimately the only way to ensure that most stations will sell higher blends is to ensure that most cars can use them. If every car could use any blend of gas and ethanol, every station would sell those blends. Period.

If numbers used recently by a car company exec are correct, it costs between $10 and $70 to make a car an FFV. Even at the high end of that range, it would cost about a billion dollars a year to make every car sold in the U.S. an FFV. From 1980 to 1995, we all paid into a superfund to make about $1.3 billion a year available for cleaning up things like gigantic oil spills. Perhaps it would be wiser to create a similar fund that would make oil spill cleanup less necessary.

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The American Coalition for Ethanol publishes Ethanol Today magazine each month to cover the biofuels industryís hot topics, including cellulosic ethanol, E85, corn ethanol, food versus fuel, ethanolís carbon footprint, E10, E15, and mid-range ethanol blends.
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