- The Washington Times - Friday, June 29, 2007

The first ethanol fueling station in the District opened for drivers yesterday, joining a small — but growing — group of stations nationwide selling the biofuel.

The Georgetown Chevron on Wisconsin Avenue will sell VeraSun’s branded VE85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percentgasoline, in addition to regular gas. The price yesterday was $2.55 a gallon, 62 cents cheaper than $3.17 a gallon for regular gasoline.

The Navy Exchange Gas Station near the Pentagon in Arlington also sells E85, as do stations in Rockville, Annapolis and Fort Meade, Md.,according to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition.

The cleaner-burning ethanol fuel is an environmentally friendly way to move toward energy independence, said Patrick Farrell, an Enterprise Rent-A-Car spokesman.

“We view this as an opportunity to bring some exposure, to jump-start the initiative,” Mr. Farrell said.

VeraSun, an ethanol producer, and General Motors collaborated with Enterprise to open and promote the station. Enterprise is opening its “E85/FlexFuel branch” in the District, where about 50 percent of its rental car fleet will be General Motors flex-fuel vehicles.

The number of E85 stations has not kept pace with the nearly 6 million flex-fuel vehicles on the roads nationwide, said Phil Lampert, executive director of the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition in Jefferson City, Mo. About 1,200 of the approximately 168,000 stations in the U.S. sell the fuel, not nearly enough to handle the demand, he said.

“We’re a very small drop in the bucket,” Mr. Lampert said.

But the number of stations is growing as ethanol takes hold in the fuel market.Five years ago, there were fewer than 200 public E85 stations .

Matt Hartwig, spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association in the District, said he expects the industry to double in five years. Implementing E85, often done at existing stations, can cost from a few thousand dollars to $30,000 or $40,000, he said.

“E85 is the classic chicken-and-the-egg situation,” Mr. Hartwig said, explaining that bothmore ethanol stations and more ethanol production are needed.

Part of the problem is that ethanol is relatively new, meaning few consumers are aware of it. And station owners and automakers are wary of the unknown,Mr. Lampert said.

“Gas stations have been selling gasoline for over 100 years,” he said. “They’re used to it and the requirements.”

There is also less demand for ethanol than there is for gasoline, since there are fewer flex-fuel vehicles than regular-gasoline vehicles, Mr. Lampert said.

E85 is usually cheaper than regular leaded gasoline. In the Midwest Corn Belt, ethanol prices tend to be the lowest, while on the East Coast, the price of ethanol can sometimes match the price of gasoline because of transportation costs, Mr. Hartwig said.

“It has to be cheaper everywhere,” Mr. Lampert said, noting that ethanol should cost about 20 percent less than gasoline to make it worth buying. That’s because fuel economy drops by about 15 percent using ethanol.

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