Odds are you've heard more about ethanol — the corn-based alternative fuel that some tout as a homegrown, renewable replacement for gasoline — than you've actually seen of it at gas stations near you. The recent buzz about ethanol from Washington, the mass media and automakers' advertisements would make you think we've got the stuff coming out of our ears.
For example, General Motors' Live Green, Go Yellow ad campaign touts that the automaker already has more than 2 million 'flex-fuel' vehicles on the road. These cars, trucks and SUVs can run on E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Whereas this capability was once a little-know option and primarily benefited the automaker with CAFE credits (more on that in a future post), flex-fuel is now a badge of honor on the back of many vehicles, especially SUVs and trucks.
But it's hard for an 'alternative' fuel to be an alternative when there are only 1,152 stations that offer it. According to the U.S Department of Energy, that's the number of fueling stations nationwide that offer E85, as of June 2007. Click here to see a state-by-state breakdown. The upper Midwest, where the majority of ethanol is produced, dominates the landscape. Minnesota (303 stations) has more than twice the stations of second-best state Illinois (146 stations). E85 is notably absent from New England, and there are only three stations in alternative fuel-friendly California.
Sure, as investment in ethanol explodes there will be more stations starting to sell E85 all the time, no doubt there already are a few more since that report. But the point is, despite the hype, don't expect ethanol to be the superhero of energy independence anytime soon, if ever. I'll post more on the promise and pitfalls of ethanol soon.