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Gas stations not pumped about E85

Posted March 25, 2008
Updated April 30, 2008

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— With gas prices at record levels, many drivers are searching for cheaper alternatives. But at least one option is hard to come by in the Triangle.

Only three stations in the region, including one in Durham, offer E85 in their pumps. The ethanol-based fuel works in so-called "flex-fuel" vehicles that run on E85 or straight gasoline.

Other states, such as South Carolina, have five times the number of stations with E85. Area retailers said it's expensive to put in the pumps – about $50,000 each, although federal grants and tax credits are available to help with the cost – and they're not sure there's enough demand to make it a good deal.

"It still gets down to whether you can sell it," said Haddon Clark, whose United Oil operates 75 Handy Hugo's gas stations in the Triangle. "I have friends who've done E85, and they don't seem as enthused as when they put it in."

Although E85 sells for about $2.99 a gallon, compared with about $3.26 a gallon for gas, vehicles that burn the blended fuel get about 30 percent fewer miles per gallon than if they used regular unleaded. Industry experts said that eliminates any savings at the pump for drivers.

For example, a Lincoln Navigator that gets 11 miles per gallon would spend $90.44 to drive a 242-mile trip using E85 at $2.99 per gallon. The same trip on gas costing $3.29 a gallon would cost $72. 38 for filling the tank.

But Dan Barutio, who already fills up with E85 at Cruizers on N.C. Highway 55 in Durham, said he expects demand for the fuel to soar along with gas prices.

"If the (E85) price comes down, you'll definitely see it," Barutio said.

Chris Cady, general manager of Crossroads Ford in Cary, said the dealership sells twice as many flex fuel F-150 pickup trucks as it does models that burn only gas. But that's only because Crossroads Ford orders twice as many, he said, noting "there's not a lot of consumer heat" for flex fuel vehicles.

In addition to Cruizers, Tommy's Crown on U.S. Highway 15/501 in Pinehurst and America's Fuel on Broad Street in Southern Pines offer E85.

"From an industry standpoint, we'll offer any product the motoring public accepts," said Gary Harris, executive director of the North Carolina Petroleum Marketers Association.

43 Comments

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  • photoz Mar 26, 2008

    @nodoginthisfight:

    you are correct, converting our nation's auto fleet to electric will tax the power grid. going cold turkey on oil will require 2 primary things: electric cars and more energy on the grid to handle the drain.

    I know there are a lot of skeptics and fear-mongerers, but nuclear is the way to go. There hasn't been a new reactor built in this country in over 15 years, yet there is new tech going up in other countries that is proven safe:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power

    the other alternative is to drill our own land resources (Alaska) and I feel that fight would be harder to win.

  • grayboomerang Mar 26, 2008

    Tarheelsdontlikeedwards.....perhaps we aren't buying the same things..LOL! Hard to compare expenses unless they are exactly the same.

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Mar 26, 2008

    "I agree with the poster and grocery store prices....we've started doing alot of our shopping at Aldi. I was getting tired of spending 200.00 a week in groceries for 2 people. I have no idea how people with families do it. So we've started shopping at Aldi and looking for sales weekly."

    Wow, you must go to the most expensive stores in town. I go to Super Wal-Mart and spend an average of $120 for three people.

  • orange dude Mar 26, 2008

    ... besides, those huge SUV's are a traffic hazard. Even if you are five car lengths behind them, you can't see through them and you can't see around them. You are then dependant on the brake lights of someone who is probably distracted because they are talking on a cell phone.

  • Piglet Mar 26, 2008

    Many folks commenting here are misinformed. Current scientific studies indicate it takes 0.05MJ of petroleum to produce 1MJ of corn ethanol. Making that same MJ of ethanol requires 0.7MJ of energy from natural gas or electricity - and electricity mostly comes from coal. So, you put in 0.75MJ and get 1MJ out, a modest but positive return. These analyses include all the farming activity, fertilizer, seed crop, everything. This data is from the renewable energy lab at UC Berkeley and was published in “Science”.

    Sometimes the media erroneously simplifies the energy inputs to say “gallons of gas”, but that is just bad reporting. People who say that “it takes more than a gallon of oil to make a gallon of corn ethanol” are either very confused or lying.

  • nodoginthisfight Mar 26, 2008

    Wrong we need to be dependent on the oil supplies in North America. We need to build refineries for the first time in over 20 years(thanks Bill and the wackos). Tap Awnr reserve, drill offshore,use the oil from shale technology, become dependent on ourselves for once.
    If we have electric cars how do we produce the electricity? The grids are taxed now at peak times. Nuclear or coal burning plants are your source for energy. Please don't tell me GREEN solutions every alternative energy source out there is subsidized by the feds. Get them off the federal handout list then they become a viable source.

  • OpenM1nd Mar 26, 2008

    "For example, a Lincoln Navigator that gets 11 miles per gallon would spend $90.44 to drive a 242-mile trip using E85 at $2.99 per gallon. The same trip on gas costing $3.29 a gallon would cost $72.38 for filling the tank."

    Only 11 mpg? Egad! Anyone preferring to drive a heavy, expensive, non-commercial vehicle that averages only 11 mpg has forfeited his or her right to complain about gasoline prices if other alternatives are available. Why not trade it in on a minivan (~25 mpg) if you need the seating capacity, or on a Ford Focus (35 mpg) if you do not? What a waste of resources!

    Flame Bait: And for the people who still think they are impressing others with their expensive vehicles, guess again. We could probably care less. In fact, we're laughing all the way to the bank in vehicles that are paid off, allowing more budget for gasoline. :-)

  • MyNameIsMud Mar 26, 2008

    Many people buy into the assumption that biofuels (biodiedel and ethanol) can only be produced by traditional agriculture methods. It's a valid argument that this production is using up valuable cropland and raising consumer prices. Alternative methods of production are in the proving stages--the most notable of these is algaculture, or farming algae. Algae can be used to produce both enthanol and biodiesel and it offers production yields many times higher than traditional farming, and it can be produced in arid/desert regions using closed-system containers. It can also be coupled with coal-fired electric plants to capture CO2 emissions to "feed" to the algae and produce higher production rates. I think it has possibilities. So, dismissing biofuels as unsustainable, as crackpot science, or as a snake oil sales pitch does nothing to further the debate at this point.

  • orange dude Mar 26, 2008

    I owned a 1991 Ford Festiva which got 54 mpg when I bought it and after 240K miles still got 38mpg in 2005 when I sold it. The automotive manufacturers CAN produce cars which get over 50mpg, but they gotta be in "kahootz" with the oil companies, so they don't. If folks keep dropping 40K plus for those crazy huge SUV gas guzzlers, they will sure enough keep producing them. The oil companies love them for it!

  • Phroge Mar 26, 2008

    The automotive industry is full of good intentions... to make themselves look good without sacrificing their bottom line nor the abilitites of any fuel company to gouge the general public. Long ago I saw a documentary on a fuel effcient cars which had a segment on a guy that had modified a gas powered car into an electic car. The wonder of this car was that it did not plug in, and it did not have a 2nd full size engine to boost the vehicles power. what it did have was an small gas powered lawnmower engine that was only used to charge the batteries. The car got over 100 mpg. This is the direction that the automotive manufacturers should be going.

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