By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
Like a pioneer trapper in Midwestern woods, the single ethanol pump at the H-E-B fuel station in Killeen is apt to be the city's only one for a while, but it's getting some business. And like the lonely pioneers of legendary days, it has some government backing.
Personnel at the fuel station said about 4 p.m. Wednesday that 17 people had bought the E85 "flexfuel" – 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent unleaded gasoline – since the yellow ribbon was cut on the pump at 11 a.m., and the count had reached 84 by about 4 p.m. Thursday. Station manager Kim Brannock said at the ribbon-cutting that people had been asking about the fuel's availability for several days.
The price per gallon at the opening was $2.41. Store director Rudy Gill said H-E-B is committed to keeping the price 30 cents per gallon below regular unleaded, but that doesn't mean cars will run that much cheaper. Ethanol doesn't provide as efficient mileage as gasoline does, and one correspondent to the Daily Herald said the owner's manual for his car, a 2006 Dodge Stratus, says the flexfuel will provide 30 percent less mileage than gasoline.
Some late-model vehicles are made to accept flexfuel, and some older models will. A complete listing and much other information is available online at e85fuel.com.
Another pioneering ethanol pump is at an H-E-B station in Waco.
The whole alternative-fuels project, also involving experiments with biodiesel, electricity, hydrogen, methanol, natural gas and propane, is in its infancy. Promoters of the fuels, and governments at all levels, are looking for:
n Cleaner-burning fuels.
n Fuel from renewable sources.
n Fuels that don't depend on the political climates of foreign governments.
Ethanol scores three out of three. Ethanol emits less hydrocarbon and benzene than gasoline and releases carbon dioxide that can be used by plants in the environment, and it's made from a variety of plants grown domestically year after year. Chief among these are corn and milo. Brazil uses sugar cane, but that can't be grown in enough volume in this country.
Use of the fuel has grown considerably in Midwestern and Western states where considerable corn is grown and in environmentally conscious Western states. The National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition Web site shows four pages of retail outlets in Nebraska and six in Iowa, but only two in Texas, and many of those are on military installations. Six are Kroger grocery stores, and as of Thursday, five are H-E-Bs. Texas only has two wholesale points, one in Dallas and one in Houston, compared with Wyoming's five.
So far, according to NEVC chairman Curtis Donaldson of Belton, Texas has none of the nation's nearly 100 ethanol plants, although two are under construction in the Panhandle, and one is planned in Temple.
Donaldson is also owner of CleanFuelUSA, which makes flexfuel pumps. The NEVC is headquartered in Jefferson City, Mo., the heart of corn country. Donaldson said he knew of no plans by any other company to install flexfuel pumps in Central Texas at this time.
Nonetheless, he said soldiers and their families who know the risks of current sources of fossil fuels ask him constantly about efforts to make American energy self-sufficient.
Ethanol, or E85, is now unavailable only in Alaska, Hawaii, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, the New England states and a few other of the smallest states on the upper East Coast.
Despite its scarcity so far in Texas, the state mandates its use in state vehicles where it's available, and Texas Department of Transportation Waco district public information officer Ken Roberts and other officials attended a press conference several months ago announcing the H-E-B pump in Killeen.
The federal government has a similar regulation, and Ron Diehl, assistant chief of staff for installation management for the Army, planned to be at Fort Hood early this week to look at the situation here. He said that based on what he knew, the 200 non-tactical vehicles at Fort Hood should be able to comply with regulations saying they must use ethanol if it is available within a 15-minute drive or five miles from the post.
The city of Killeen is not following suit just yet. Public information director Hilary Shine said transportation officials told her they had studied it and found that the expense of ethanol-friendly vehicles is prohibitive at this time.
"But we're holding the door open, and when the technology changes enough, we'll certainly bring it to the table again."
Diehl was very careful to say, "What we do should not be interpreted as an endorsement of H-E-B itself. We would buy the fuel wherever it's available.
"But we very certainly endorse the technology."
Contact Don Bolding at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wes McQuiddy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency coordinator from Dallas, becomes the first customer to put E85 flexfuel into a truck at a press conference celebrating the opening of the H-E-B flexfuel pump in Waco Wednesday.
Winell Herron, group vice president of public affairs for H-E-B in San Antonio, holds a "save green while going green sign flanked by members of the Texas Farm Bureau at a press conference at the opening of the H-E-B flexfuel pump in Waco Wednesday. Farm Bureau members brought the combine parked behind them to celebration their anticipation of raising grains to feed the ethanol industry.