E85 Boondoggle Of The Day: GM Still Tilting At Biofuels

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

GM is spending about $100 million a year adding flex-fuel capability to our vehicles. We can’t afford to leave this capital stranded… I think it would be very helpful if we could get government assistance. But I really want the oil industry, I want the people who are at this conference, I want the government and I want us to just work together to make ethanol a reality,

This was the message the GM’s Tom Stephens took to the Renewable Fuels Association’s National Ethanol Conference in Orlando. And though Stephens’ exhortation of the ethanol industry makes for a pleasant addition to GM’s typical ethanol message (i.e. the first sentence of the quote), it’s little more than filler. GM’s push to align itself with the ethanol industry continues unabated, as Stephens reveals that half of all GM vehicles will be flex-fuel capable by 2012. The problem is that GM reckons the country needs another 10k E85 pumps (up from the current 2k), and since the ethanol industry would effectively collapse without government support, nobody from the industry is jumping in to take responsibility for this self-serving infrastructure project.

Today’s there’s 2,200 (ethanol fuel stations) that are out there but that’s not enough. Two-thirds of the pumps are concentrated in 10 states and those 10 states have only about 19 percent of the flex-fuel vehicles that we have on the road. That’s a big problem for us.

Though Stephens can quantify the problem, and hope that the industry will fix it, he’s whistling in the wind. Even with government blending mandates and tax credits, few localities have any interest in expanding ethanol’s availability, in no small part due to its highly questionable environmental benefits (in the current corn-based form). In fact, the Southern California Association of Governments recently turned down $11m in federal grants aimed at expanding ethanol pump availability. Why? As one representative put it:

If we could prevent forest fires that’s a good thing. However, preventing forest fires by cutting down every tree in the forest might not be the way to accomplish that… You have to consider carbon emissions in your land use, you have to consider everything. That is something that has not been done by the boosters of ethanol.

Local companies confirm that without the federal grants, the pumps will not be built. If production, blending and infrastructure construction must be paid for by the government to make ethanol a viable gasoline alternative, well, how viable is it really? The irony in all this: corn use in ethanol production is actually increasing, and thanks to the new Renewable Fuel Standard proposed rules, it likely will continue to. And all because political convenience is a far more persuasive argument in Washington than mere science.

The fact that GM remains so whole-heartedly in favor of this country’s continued flirtation with the welfare queen of alternative energy will not help wash the “Government Motors” label off anytime soon.

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  • Ronnie Schreiber Ronnie Schreiber on Feb 17, 2010

    For all you "peak oil" enthusiasts, cheerleading for the apocalypse, in the past few years there's been more oil reserves discovered than oil pumped. In '09 Exxon Mobil's increase in proven reserves went up 133% of the amount of oil they took out of the ground. Exxon has been finding more oil than it pumps every year since 1994. It's unfortunate that as a country the US doesn't take full advantage of all of its energy resources. We don't allow drilling of known reserves, we've done nothing with nuclear power for decades (Obama's announcement yesterday is a small step). Members of the environmentalist religion have controlled the energy debate in the US. Of course one of the central tenets of that faith is that the US must be brought low, hence our self-crippling energy policy.

  • Accs Accs on Feb 19, 2010

    Alright... GM has been pushing this E85 b.s for the past 3-4yrs now, when the majority of the damn things it built.. will never see the fuel. On top of.. There is less energy in the fuel to burn to even make it worth it, to make the engine complaint. On top of.. E85 has CORN added to it. And that CORN that doesn't get made into food / left out of food production. SO we are putting car fuel ahead of food production, all the while the vehicle doesn't benefit from it at all! Then again.. The only vehicles I see in MD / DE / Pa / NJ with these stupid badges are the GMT900 vehicles. And Id pay money to the bastards driving them to find out of they had any clue as to what the badges meant, or even the slightest clue behind the discussion and the money.. that went into producing a motor for such a stupid compliance. As for $200bux for a drum of oil... And a E85 Prius. What a waste of god damn time. If that ever happened... Id prob break down buy a GTI deisel and get more fun and mileage out it than any Pious Prius driver

  • Scott ?Wonder what Toyota will be using when they enter the market?
  • Fred The bigger issue is what happens to the other systems as demand dwindles? Will thet convert or will they just just shut down?
  • Roger hopkins Why do they all have to be 4 door??? Why not a "cab & a half" and a bit longer box. This is just another station wagon of the 21st century. Maybe they should put fake woodgrain on the side lol...
  • Greg Add me to the list: 2017 Sorento EX AWD w/2.0 Turbo GDI 68K miles. Changed oil religiously with only synthetic. Checked oil level before a rare long road trip and Ievel was at least 2 quarts down. That was less than 6 months after the last oil change. I'm now adding a quart of oil every 1000 miles and checking every 500 miles because I read reports that the oil usage gets worse. Too bad, really like the 2023 Tuscon. But I have not seen Hyundai/Kia doing anything new in terms of engine development. Therefore, I have to suspect that I will ony become a victim of a fatally flawed engine development program if I were to a purchase another Kia/Hyundai.
  • Craiger 1970s Battlestar Galactica Cylon face.