Over the years, Ive addressed the relationship between corn production/demand, and the evolution of the non-petroleum fuel industry, from several different perspectives. Ive offered to listen to anyone with a valid explanation as to why, despite all the logic that has been brought to bear, there isnt more enthusiasm for biofuels, and particularly ethanol. It seems so simple. Weve proven engines will run on pure ethanol - - at least in the motor racing venues. Our own vehicles, and machines with small engines have been running on a ten percent ethanol mix for years and years.
Recently, I acquired a flexfuel vehicle. From earlier research, I knew of three or four stations with E85 pumps. I had no luck in casting about for further information, until I inquired of the Renewable Fuels Association. Robert White answered my chicken or the egg question, by saying the number of vehicles on the road are ahead of the retail ethanol sales infrastructure, in that E85 pumps are being established at the rate of about one a day. The biggest hurdle, he went on to say, is cost at the retail level. Big Oil owns less than one half of one percent of all gas stations. The average net income of gas stations is always in the mid-$30,000 range. Asking them to invest in some cases multiple times their annual net income, in a fuel that most vehicle dont actually need, is challenging.
He also provided me a list of E85 stations, state by state, across the country. The Michigan list is downloaded to my GPS, and Im on the road, E85 or otherwise.
From the world of agriculture, right here in Michigan, as well as in a number of other states, some of which produce a lot more corn than does Michigan, weve seen the very necessary, but not very profitable corn production really come forward. It was, of course, because of the ethanol demand, as corn was and still is, the primary base source of the makings of ethanol.
Then, we started hearing rumblings about the Federal Environmental Protection Agency contemplating accommodation of a concern expressed by the Petroleum Industry. That accommodation was expected to put some sort of lid on the total ethanol production, which in turn would cut back on the demand and price for corn. Agriculture, and a host of other industries are campaigning and lobbying extravagantly in an effort to stop, or at least modify, the expressed EPA intentions relative to ethanol production.
Also, from time to time, I have, as I have said, invited an answer to the question, Why are there not more Flexfuel vehicles, and more E85 pumps available ? The question, expressed as paraphrase of the old, Which came first, the chicken or the egg?, just laid there, until now.
We have at least part of the answer.
Karl Guenther is a retired Kalamazoo farm broadcaster and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . He is a member of Michigan Farm Bureau and an emeritus member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting. (accompanying picture is a screen capture from YouTube)