Autos: Is E85 Fuel the Answer to U.S. Oil Problems?

ByABC News
March 20, 2006, 3:18 PM

March 20, 2006 — -- Have you noticed all those splashy new gasoline stations in your area? You know, the ones that sell E85 fuel?

No? Don't feel bad. Even though it's a proven fact that cars burning E85 use far less oil than those using conventional gasoline, E85 is not exactly in the fast lane.

What's E85? It's a mixture of 15 percent gasoline and 85 percent ethanol, a fuel produced from corn and other agricultural products. Now we've all seen corn, right? There's plenty of it in the heartland of this country, and that's the point: Unlike oil, the United States has an abundance of corn. There's no problem of importing anything.

But is it effective? Last week Detroit News auto critic Mark Phelan reported driving a fairly large 2007 Chevrolet Yukon SUV 88 miles from his home in Detroit to Ann Arbor and back. The Yukon weighs more than 5,500 pounds and packs a 320-horsepower engine. But Phelan said he used less than a gallon of gasoline on his journey.

He used 5.2 gallons of fuel but only three-quarters of a gallon consisted of gasoline. The rest was E85. Pretty impressive.

Here's the depressing part, especially if you're a corn farmer who wants to cash in on a renewable energy that powers cars and could help wean the nation off oil: There are exactly zero E85 service stations in New England. None. Zip. None in Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, Alaska or Hawaii, either. There are four in Michigan, home of the big three automakers.

There are more than 100 stations where E85 is available -- or will soon be -- in Illinois, for example, but just four in supposedly green-minded California, and all the stations are located at government installations, such as labs or military bases. Of some 168,000 service stations in this country, about 300 offer E85. So it's a scattered picture at best, and it leaves a lot of consumers wondering whether they should invest in an E85-compatible car or truck.

The National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition has compiled a list of flexible fuel vehicles. Click Here to See the List.