GM partners with Governors Association to create E85 network
July 14, 2008
When it comes to GM and green technology, recently the news has been dominated by stories about the Volt plug-in hybrid due out (in limited numbers) by the end of 2010. Despite the PHEV hype, the General still believes an eco-friendly future will include alternative fuels, too. Having recently partnered to open a hydrogen station in Los Angeles, now the automaker is turning its attention again to ethanol, joining with the National Governors Association to make a network of E85 pumps available nationwide.
With corn-based ethanol losing popularity, GM recently shelved its "Live Green, Go Yellow" marketing campaign to focus on promoting dual-mode hybrids instead. But the automaker hasn't forgotten about ethanol, and has invested heavily in Coskata and Mascoma, two companies developing cellulosic ethanol that has a higher energy output and isn't derived from food like corn.
GM plans to make sure that when the new fuel is available, drivers will have the chance to use it. In a partnership formed under the Securing a Clean Energy Future Initiative championed by Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, GM will assist states across the country in strategically locating pumps to give drivers the chance to use E85 instead of gas. Having already helped bring 300 E85 pumps online in 15 states over the past three years, the General will have 18 flex-fuel vehicles on sale in 2009 and hopes 50 percent of its total production will be E85-capable by 2012.
GM's vice president of environment, energy and safety policy Beth Lowery believes that in order to help it become a genuine alternative "the infrastructure development for E85 needs to expand now," and the automaker is determining where to build pumps based on flex-fuel car registrations, as well as helping retailers get grants to begin selling the 85 percent ethanol-15 percent gasoline blend. At present there are approximately 170,000 gas stations in the U.S., but less than 1700 of them sell E85 -- meaning the majority of flex-fuel vehicle owners don't have access to it. Saying "we must do more to Americanize our energy sources," Gov. Pawlenty hopes the new partnership with GM will help promote ethanol as a viable fuel in the near term.
GM, Ford, and others have been selling flex-fuel cars for some time now, but so far E85 hasn't emerged as the next big thing in gasoline alternatives. But Lowery claims that with "sustainable production methods, a variety of vehicle offerings and a robust infrastructure" the fuel could succeed. This may be true, but given that ethanol's lower energy content makes it more expensive to use, unless someone can solve the cost problem E85 may remain a small player for the time being. For more info on the Clean Energy Future Initiative, click here.