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Alternative Fuel Cars Nice, But Pumps Hard To Find

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina is putting more alternative-fuel vehicles on the road every year. The problem is that there are only a few places to fill them up -- fueling an interesting twist to "supply and demand."

They look like any other car. But cars bearing the E-85 sticker run on alternative fuel -- specifically, state-owned cars that burn ethanol fuel.

Ethanol fuel, or E-85, is a lighter color than regular gas because it is 85 percent corn alcohol -- similar to moonshine or White Lightning -- and 15 percent gasoline. It reduces dependency on foreign oil and cuts down on air pollution.

That sounds great, but there's a small problem: the small number of ethanol fuel pumps. The state only has three, two in Raleigh and one in Wilmington.

"So far, no service stations that I know of have been very interested in providing ethanol," said Danny Willis of Motor Fleet Management. "It costs them a little bit more, and they just don't have the customers."

Regular gas can be used in the ethanol-burning cars, but without the benefits of lower gas use and lower air pollution.

Employees say they just work their day around it.

"You just have to plan your time," state employee Eric Shearer said. "We were coming over to the office. So we fill up with gas before we go over -- and go back to Wake Forest."

Legislation subsidizing the cost of ethanol fuel to local retailers has gone nowhere in the General Assembly. The state says that until enough ethanol cars are on the road, and until service stations get into the act, they're stuck with three pumps.

The state has vehicles that run on propane, electricity and some hybrid cars. But employees say the ethanol or flexible fuel cars are the best way to go.

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