How to Win a Flex-Fuel Vehicle

by : abcesso

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius said the choice of a grand prize is a good one. "By offering an E85 vehicle as a grand prize, the Lottery and its partners are helping promote an industry that is increasingly important to Kansas," said the Governor. "Demand for ethanol is creating a growing market for Kansas grain."

Good for the ethanol industry, perhaps, but of questionable value as a way to reduce gasoline consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. According to official EPA fuel-economy ratings, a 2007 GMC Sierra Classic 1500 4WD (Crew Cab) gets 15 mpg in city driving and 19 mpg in highway driving when operating on straight, unleaded gasoline. Operating on E85, those numbers drop to 11 mpg and 14 mpg, respectively. That is about the same as a Hummer H2 (flex-fuel versions of which will become available starting with the 2008-year models).

Even were the truck to run all the time on E85, it would still burn 61% as much gasoline (in the form of the 15% gasoline contained in E85) as a Honda Civic hybrid would running exclusively on gasoline. Thats assuming the E85 being consumed actually contains the full 85% ethanol: ASTM standards for E85 allow its ethanol content to drop as low as 70% during winter months, in order to improve performance attributes.

Of course, in practice, the amount of ethanol consumed by owners of FFVs in the United States is much, much less than 85%, and still in the single digits. It is easy to understand why: besides having to hunt around to find a filling station that sells E85, the lucky winner of the truck would (according to the EPA) have to shell out $889 more each year to keep the vehicle tanked up on E85 instead of unleaded gasoline.

One has to wonder also whether the profits from the Lottery will provide a net gain for Kansas. In addition to offering income tax credits for installing E85 fueling equipment (up to 40% of total cost, to a maximum of $160,000 per station), the State Government also pays a tax credit of 7.5 cents per gallon of ethanol produced from plants located in the state.

Environmental Benefits
Bio-ethanol is an entirely renewable fuel that can be produced from just about any biomass source, such as corn, wheat, sugar-cane or cellulose. On top of these environmental benefits, in many markets the car owner is compensated at the fuel pump through the lower price of bio-ethanol.

One single renewable fuel will not be able to replace todays fossil fuels, and the range of alternative fuels will probably be far wider in the future. Many different fuels and technologies are therefore being developed in parallel. Ethanol reduces dependency on fossil fuels.

Bio-Ethanol - The future?
The demand for renewable bio-ethanol is growing steadily in Europe. There are already 23 plants producing ethanol in Europe which is expected to rise to just over 60 by 2008. Approximately 720 million gallons of ethanol are produced annually within the European Union, primarily from sugar beet and various grains. Capacity is expected to increase threefold by 2008.

In comparison, the USA has 101 bio-ethanol plants with a capacity of 4.8 billion gallons per year. It has a further 39 bio-ethanol refineries under construction, which will add more than 2.5 billion gallons capacity. There are already about 1,000 filling stations for E85 in the USA.