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E85 fuel to make its way to the Southern Crescent

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

E85, the alternative car fuel, soon will be available at service stations in Ellenwood, Jonesboro, and Fayetteville, and several other locations in metro Atlanta, and south Georgia.

"It's not the solution for getting away from oil, but it's a nice step in the right direction," said Steve Walk, director of project development for CleanFuel USA.

Walk is overseeing the E85 conversion projects in Jonesboro and Fayetteville.

Last November, Walk helped the Texaco Food Mart at 4495 South Cobb Drive in Smyrna to convert its kerosene pumps to dispense E85, making it the first gas station in Georgia to do so.

"It really brings jobs into the state, and they are high-tech jobs, so it ripples down from there," said Walk.

Until now, E85 -- a cleaner burning alternative fuel made with 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline -- only has been available at five gas stations in the state. One was in metro Atlanta.

This week, the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority (GEFA) distributed a total of $282,968 in grant money to assist 21 gas stations statewide to install E85 pumps, or convert kerosene pumps to accommodate E85 gas.

SP Petroleum Transporters eventually will offer E85 at 3854 Grant Road in Ellenwood, and Indoor Oil Company will offer the gas at their Jonesboro and Fayetteville locations, at 7915 Jonesboro Road and 537 Glynn Street North, respectively.

Shane Hix, GEFA communications and marketing director, said the program, designed to increase the reach and accessibility of E85 in Georgia, has worked.

"Georgia has a unique situation ... we have the ability to grow the feed stock for E85 and biodiesel and with our plants coming on-line, we have the ability to produce the fuel," said Hix. "The goal of the program is to create a network of E85 pumps around the state.

Randy Bly, spokesperson for AAA Auto Club South, said as of Friday, the price of a barrel of oil reached $103.05 -- the highest price on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) since trading began in 1983. Also on Friday, the average price of a gallon of gas in metro Atlanta was $3.152, an all time high.

Bly said with the rising price of imported fuel, it is a good idea to invest in locally produced alternative fuels. "I'm glad that it's something that we're looking at because we definitely need to wean ourselves from that foreign oil," said Bly.

While E85 fuel is cleaner burning, Bly said that E85 has some drawbacks.

E85 must be used in flex-fuel vehicles, and it produces 25 percent fewer BTUs (British thermal unit) of energy than conventional gasoline, thus, more of it is required to get similar mileage. Bly said the national average price for E85 was $2.588 per gallon, but the miles per gallon (MPG)/BTU adjusted price per gallon was $3.406 -- slightly higher than regular gasoline.

"It is something that is still experimental," he said. He added, however, that "there is certainly something to be gained from expanding the infrastructure of ethanol. I think the more [E85] you have in a given area, it will bring down the price of gas."

Hix said in May 2007, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a bill, which gave a one-time $400,000 credit for E85 infrastructure improvements around the state.

In the Spring, the application process to distribute the remaining $117,032 of grant money will reopen. The goal will be to target gas stations along the Interstate I-75 corridor north of Marietta, the Interstate 95 corridor along the Georgia coastline, and northeast parts of Georgia, near Athens and Augusta.