E85 builds momentum around the world

By Bryan Sims | October 06, 2008
Efforts to increase awareness, availability and use of E85 blends in consumer and commercial fleets are actively underway across the United States and even Antarctica.

State officials in Maryland are working to increase the accessibility of E85 for consumers. In August, Gov. Martin O'Malley, joined by Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and other administration officials, devised a proposal to build four new E85 fuel pumps throughout the state. E85 will also be used by the state transportation fleet, and E85 pumps will be installed at the Maryland State Police barracks and State Highway Administration facilities.

In Minnesota, the state's American Lung Association released statistics that illustrate a change in traditional fuel consumption. Statewide sales of E85 in July were 16 percent higher than sales from one year ago. During that same time period, gasoline sales decreased 10 percent, dropping from approximately 233 million gallons in July 2007 to approximately 211.9 million gallons in July 2008. Monthly sales of E85 are averaging between 2 million and 2.5 million gallons.

Additionally, Freedom Valu Centers in the Minneapolis metro area and a Holiday Stationstore in Eagan, Minn., held E85 promotions during the Republican National Convention. For two hours, the Holiday Stationstore pared back the price of E85 by $1 per gallon. The promotion was intended to occur during the RNC and to provide fuel for the fleet of flexible-fuel vehicles that General Motors Corp. made available to RNC officials and guests.

One gas station owner was recently cited for not properly handling E85. On Aug. 13, the Iowa attorney general's office filed a state consumer-protection lawsuit against Jerry Fratzke, owner of Pronto Market gas stations in Sumner and Fairbank, Iowa, for "improperly and fraudulently" selling E85 as regular unleaded gasoline or E10. A temporary restraining order was granted, preventing Fratzke from selling E85. At press time, a hearing was scheduled for Sept. 22.

The American Petroleum Institute recently asked the U.S. EPA for clarification on the legalities of selling ethanol blends higher than E10 at the retail level. The EPA's response stated that the Clean Air Act does not prohibit retail gasoline stations from selling fuel blended with up to 85 percent ethanol for use in flex-fuel vehicles.

To prevent errors such as the one in Iowa, the U.S. DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., updated its "Handbook for Handling, Storing and Dispensing of E85." Published for the DOE's Clean Cities program, the handbook updates are intended to help E85 blenders, distributors and retailers respond to the rising demand for the fuel.
As for performance, E85 will be put to the ultimate test in November when the Moon Regan Trans-Antarctic Expedition puts E85 in the tank of its Concept Ice Vehicle, a propeller-driven, three-skied vehicle. During the expedition, the viscosity of E85—along with the fuel's flame point at varying temperatures, altitudes and temperatures—will be tested. The CIV will lead a 3,000-mile expedition across Antarctica, which is scheduled to begin Nov. 14.