Ford will launch the beginnings of a "Midwest Ethanol Corridor" -- expanding E85 ethanol fuel availability by about one-third throughout the states of Illinois and Missouri this year through the company's ongoing partnership with VeraSun Energy, a renewable energy company. Actions to increase the availability of ethanol in neighboring states are planned, as well. VeraSun Energy Corp. is a renewable energy company, headquartered in Brookings, S.D. The company produces 230 million gallons per year of ethanol at its facilities in South Dakota and Iowa. VeraSun is the nation's second largest ethanol producer.
Ford also announced that it is working with the city of Chicago to put hybrid vehicles into service as taxi cabs beginning in 2007, as part of a plan being considered today by the Chicago City Council. Ford is loaning the city an Escape Hybrid to serve as a training and education tool with taxi fleets and the public. The Ford Escape Hybrid will help taxi companies reduce fuel expenses while helping to improve the air quality in the city.
"Ford is advancing innovative solutions to customer concerns over high gas prices and America's overdependence on foreign oil," says Bill Ford, Ford Motor Company chairman and CEO. "Ethanol is an innovative energy source straight from the heartland of America."
E85 ethanol is a fuel blend that contains 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Ethanol is a completely renewable fuel that, in the U.S., is most commonly made from corn. Gasoline sold in the U.S. frequently contains up to 10 percent ethanol, but an increasing number of vehicles on the road today can operate on blends containing up to 85 percent ethanol. To date, approximately 500 of the more than 180,000 fuel stations in the United States currently offer E85 ethanol.
Midwest Ethanol Corridor
The first phase in the creation of the Midwest ethanol corridor is to convert approximately 40 existing gasoline fuel pumps in Illinois and Missouri to E85. The move will increase availability by approximately one-third this year. Ford estimates there are 50,000 owners of Ford flexible fuel vehicles (FFV) in Illinois and 28,000 in Missouri. Ford will work with fuel providers and officials in other states to further develop the Midwest ethanol corridor.
"With its commitment to ethanol and E85, Ford is showing the kind of renewable energy vision that Illinois and America need," said Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich. "With the Illinois Clean Energy Infrastructure Program, we have increased the number of E85 stations in Illinois from 14 to about 100. Ford's commitment today will help us continue to expand E85 infrastructure and make this cost-effective and clean fuel more widely available to consumers in Illinois."
Ford has produced flexible fuel vehicles for more than a decade, with more than 1.6 million on the road.
With the introduction of four new 2006 models that have the E85 option - including the Ford F-150 pickup, Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car - the company will produce up to 250,000 ethanol-capable vehicles in 2006.
"Ford has been putting flexible fuel vehicles on the road for years, but the ethanol fueling infrastructure has not kept pace," said Anne Stevens, executive vice president, Ford Motor Company, and chief operating officer, The Americas. "For energy diversity to be a reality for our customers, there must be a growing infrastructure that is convenient for them.
"We are working to achieve this reality," she added. "Our focus is on infrastructure and to encourage retail fuel providers to incorporate E85 fuel options in their operations."
Ford and VeraSun said they are working together to increase consumer awareness of ethanol, particularly in the Midwest. The companies are investigating ways to inform owners of flexible fuel vehicles about the benefits of ethanol as well as where they can find E85 in local markets.
"The two greatest challenges facing greater E85 use are access to convenient fueling locations and a lack of consumer awareness," said Bill Honnef, vice president, Sales and Marketing, VeraSun. "Our partnership with Ford is to address these two issues."
This story generated more interest (based on the number of times it was viewed) than anything we have run in quite a while in our daily news, and that's good. But, is ethanol the panacea it is made out to be? Let's take a quick look at both sides of the equation.
Although Ford made this announcement that emphasized creating an ethanol infrastructure, General Motors has also committed to E85 with its growing number of vehicles that can run on the fuel. There's no doubt that the number of vehicles that can use E85 is rising. For example, Ford offers the Taurus, Crown Victoria, F-150, and Town Car; GM offers the Impala, Monte Carlo, Avalanche, Suburban, Tahoe, and Yukon; and Dodge offers the Durango, Ram, Stratus, Sebring, and Caravan. E85 capable vehicles are also available from Mazda and Nissan. It's notable that none are yet available from Toyota, as far as I know, but that may soon change.
Ford's announcement supports and reinforces a US Senate bill that was introduced last April, Bill S.918, "E-85 Fuel Utilization and Infrastructure Development Incentives Act of 2005." The purpose of the Act is to decrease the dependence of the US on foreign oil by increasing the use of high ratio blends of gasoline with a minimum 85 percent domestically derived ethanol content (E85) as an alternative fuel and providing greater access to this fuel. E85-capable Flexible Fuel Vehicles(FFVs) now exceed 5,000,000, with an additional 1,000,000 or more FFVs expected to be added annually as automakers continue to respond to congressionally-provided production incentives.
The biggest problem right now is locating ethanol-based E85 for sale, because there are only about 500 places that sell E85 out of the approximately 180,000 fueling stations in this country. Ford hopes to expand the number of E85 pumps in Illinois and Missouri by 30% this year -- a pretty lofty goal, but one that indicates it's serious and committed.
The US should look at Brazil as an example of producing its own fuel without nearly the foreign oil dependence it once had (it cut imports by approximately half using sugar cane to produce ethanol). Another advantage to E85 is lower car emissions which can help decrease air pollution.
While ethanol does have some advantages and benefits, it also has some significant issues that unfortunately contribute to its downside.
First and foremost is fuel economy. Because it has less so-called "energy density," E85 provides about 30 percent fewer miles than an equivalent volume of gasoline. Therefore, for E85 to become a viable alternative, it would have to be quite a bit less expensive than gasoline because more of it would be needed to provide the energy for traveling the same distance.
Another downside is the fact that E85 from corn doesn't really provide as much fuel compared with other ethanol sources, such as sugar cane or sugar beets. Compared with gasoline, it is also more energy intensive to produce because of the energy costs associated with its growing, harvesting, and distillation processes. Also, due to the nature of the process, regular ethanol distillation is limited to a mixture of approximately 94% ethanol and 6% water. Some changes are needed to the distillation process to produce anhydrous alcohol so that its energy density is increased and it burns more efficiently.
So, it may turn out that using current production methods, ethanol may not be as environmentally friendly as it is often made out to be, because ethanol distillation alone can create pollution at a level on par with that of refining gasoline. Add to that the fact that ethanol cars get poorer mileage and the environmental value further diminishes. Its greatest redeeming environmental value may be that it is a renewable energy source. In any event, this move by Ford, along with other technologies, such as hybrids, biodiesel, and fuel cells, may provide the impetus for moving forward and finally beginning to lessen our dependence on foreign oil.