Ethanol fuel sales grow slowly
September 9, 2008
BASALT ” Ethanol sales at the only pump in the Roaring Fork Valley that offers the alternative fuel have increased over last year, but not dramatically, the station’s owner said.
The Basalt Center Fuel station in downtown Basalt is the only place in the valley that sells ethanol fuel, or E-85. It’s called E-85 because it’s 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.
Station owner Bruce Ross said E-85 sales represented about 8 percent of total sales last year after the center began selling the fuel in March. E-85 sales made up about 12 percent of sales last month with 6,000 gallons sold.
“Our sales are up in gallons from last year,” Ross said. “But it’s hard to tell if the increase is due to normal growth or growth in the interest in ethanol.”
Ross said E-85 sales grew with some initial publicity, then settled down a bit and have grown steadily.
“It’s a growing thing, but it grows fairly slowly,” he said. “And the reason it grows slowly is the number of cars that can take the fuel.”
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Ross said General Motors brands seem to be the biggest E-85 supporters but many foreign manufacturers don’t support the flex fuel cars that can run on E-85. “I’m given to understand that it costs an awful lot of money to certify an engine to meet EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) standards as a flex fuel engine,” he said.
Ross said he took over at the station in October 2006 and it took five months of clearing regulatory hurdles before he was able to sell E-85. Selling the ethanol fuel mixture was one of the main reasons he wanted the Basalt Center Fuel.
“We thought it was a really good thing that needed to be in the valley,” he said. “I thought it was important. I thought that this valley would support it, being the kind of place that we are. To the extent that people who can use it do use it, I think I was right.”
Ross supports ethanol fuel for the same reasons his customers seem to. The ethanol in the E-85 mixture is a renewable fuel that increases the mixture’s octane level and improves emissions. Using it cuts down on gasoline consumption and could help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
E-85 is almost $1 per gallon cheaper than regular gasoline and cars that use it generally have a 20 to 35 percent reduction in mileage per gallon. It sells at $3.39 compared to $4.29 for regular gasoline at Basalt Center Fuel. But Ross said the high octane levels of E-85 also clean out engines better and create an “internal benefit” that may not be readily apparent.
Ross said hybrid technology that utilizes a combination of a gasoline engine and a battery-powered engine doesn’t have an effect on the sale of E-85 because the gasoline engine in hybrid vehicles could be designed to use E-85 instead of regular gasoline.
“Why in the world do these car companies who are making hybrid cars don’t make the same little tiny engine that’s in them E-85 compatible?” he said. “I don’t think there are any out there that are doing it.”
The next closest places from Glenwood Springs to purchase E-85 are in Grand Junction in far western Colorado and Evergreen on the Front Range, according to the Department of Energy.
But Megan Castle of the Governor’s Energy Office said there is now an E-85 station in Rifle and one in Idaho Springs. She said an E-85 pump is planned for Montrose and a second one is planned to open up in Grand Junction.
The Governor’s Energy Office estimates there are 30 models of vehicles that can run on E-85 and around 7 million flex fuel vehicles currently in use.