E85: Fuel of the future?

Jesse Batson

Jesse Batson

Problems in the Middle East, a non-renewable supply of oil and a support for South Dakota farmers are all reasons companies like VeraSun Energy are promoting E85, a mixture of ethanol and gasoline.

With a 120-million-gallon plant in Aurora, a 110-million-gallon plant in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and plans for another 110-million-gallon plant in Charles City, Iowa, VeraSun is the second largest producer of ethanol in the entire country.

The ethanol trend shows no signs of slowing down, either.

There is currently just one gas stations in Brookings that carries the E85 brand of ethanol.

“The first store that we started doing E85 with was the BP of Brookings right next to the Brookings Inn,” said Rick Eggebrecht, director of marketing at VeraSun Energy.

The National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition reports that the number of U.S. gas stations supplying E85 will increase from 585 to around 2,500.

Pump n’ Pack is currently in the process of adding E85 to its gas pumps.

Motor vehicle companies like General Motors, DaimlerChrysler and Ford are all getting their feet wet in the industry, too.

VeraSun actually started a partnership with Ford last December.

“We took our ideas to Ford and they liked it,” said Eggebecht.

Despite the recent popularity of E85, using ethanol as fuel isn’t a novelty.

“Actually, Henry Ford said that ethanol would be the fuel of the future, and he designed his first vehicles to run on ethanol,” said Eggebrecht. “Obviously that didn’t happen, but ethanol has been around for a long time.”

Ford and other car companies are all working on releasing flexible fuel hybrid vehicles. Those hybrid vehicles will be able to use both E85 and gasoline.

In 2005 GM came out with the Impala and the Monte Carlo as flex-fuel vehicles, said Eggebrecht.

There’s no way of telling whether or not the number of flex-fuel vehicles will increase at the same rate it has, or whether the market will explode.

The auto makers could continue at their current rate, or they may get competitive with each other and start mass production of flex-fuel vehicles.

Even with the relatively small amount of hybrid cars on the market right now, they can be found all over South Dakota, including right here in Brookings.

“You can go to Brookings Auto Mall and find them all over. You can go to Einspahr and find them all over. It’s exciting,” Eggebrecht said.

Many SUVs have been E85 compatable for years, but the cars are just starting to come around, said Brian Gerstner, general manager of Brookings Auto Mall.

“This year the Impala is E85 compatible and that’s kind of the flagship of Chevrolet, but I think what you’ll see in months and years to come is more and more cars becoming E85 compatible,” said Gerstner.

Currently, a little more than six million flex-fuel cars are on the road, Eggebrecht said.

The U.S. goverment has played a role in ethanol success, too.

“There’s an executive order that requires a certain percentage of federal fleets to be flex-fuel vehicles,” said Eggebrecht.

The phenomenon isn’t just a United States one.

“I know that China is looking at ethanol and I think India is looking at it,” said Eggebrecht.

Brazil is busy converting their sugar crop into ethanol, too. Seventy percent of the vehicles sold in Brazil last year were flex-fuel vehicles that could run on 100 percent ethanol.

Critics argue that E85 isn’t as effective a fuel as gasoline.

When cold weather strikes, E85 becomes E70.

“Ethanol is a little harder to vaporize in the wintertime, so by increasing the gasoline a little bit it helps to vaporize and start a little better,” said Eggebrecht.