GM wants more E85 stations

The auto industry executive says the ethanol industry must work to make higher blends of ethanol more readily available as an increasing number of car buyers begin driving flex-fuel vehicles.

Mary Beth Stanek, GM’s director for Environment and Energy, comments that the company remains committed to flex-fuel technology, but also is working on the development of electric hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Since there is only so much funding available for research and development “we need to see a corresponding of support from the (e85) industry” to make sure the fuels are available to all drivers and that the flex-fuel automobiles “are experiencing the fuel,” said Stanek, who manages GM’s partnerships with ethanol producers.

“We’re not going to work on power trains when we don’t have fuel for it, and we’re certainly going to make sure that it’s economical for consumers as well,” she told many of the renewable fuels industry leaders and media who attended a biofuels forum put on by Successful Farming magazine on Tuesday.

Making available E85, an 85 percent ethanol – 15 percent gasoline blend, should not be “as hard as people are making it,” Stanek said.

“I’m not saying it’s easy, but we can all work together to get more E85 out there,” she said. “I just don’t feel it’s insurmountable.”

While the ethanol industry frequently announces the opening of new E85 pumps, the blend really is “a classic chicken and the egg” scenario, said Matt Hartwig, a spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association.

To make E85 a mainstream product, he said there needs to be vehicles that can burn E85, the infrastructure to make it and transport it, and the need for more technology to produce enough ethanol to supply the higher E85 demands. That includes more development and funding to cellulosic ethanol production, which breaks down any organic material from various plants, not just corn, to produce ethanol.

GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler have said they plan to have half of annual vehicle production be E85 flexible fuel or biodiesel capable by 2012. For the Detroit based GM, that means ramping up production from 400,000 of the E85 flex-fuel vehicles each year up to 800,000.

The cost of the items that help vehicles use E85 ranges from $150 to $500. But for auto manufacturers, Stanek said the investment into the technology and research to make the autos run correctly on E85 is “quite expensive.”

“It’s not the parts in the box, it’s about the investment into the engineering expense,” she declared. “We are willing to do that, and we’re going as fast as we can.”

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