Md.'s 1st ethanol pump open for business

Most of fuel is produced by American farmers

November 15, 2001|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

When Lynne Hoot pulled up to the pump at a Chevron station near Fort Meade yesterday morning and filled the tank of her 1998 Dodge Caravan, she considered it a momentous occasion.

The majority of the fuel she pumped into the van hadn't come from an oil well in the Middle East or elsewhere, but from cornfields around Peoria, Ill.

It was E-85 ethanol, and Hoot was at the first service station in the state to offer the alternative fuel.

"I've had this van for three years," she said. "It was built to run on E-85, but it has never been available in Maryland."

Hoot is executive director of the Maryland Grain Producers Association, which administers the Maryland Energy Administration's ethanol program.

E-85 is a gasoline substitute that is a blend of 85 percent alcohol - made from corn, barley, other grains or starchy products such as sweet potatoes - and 15 percent gasoline.

Under terms of the Energy Policy Act of 1992, three-quarters of the cars and light trucks in federal and state government fleets are built to run on alternative fuels, such as ethanol.

But until yesterday, there was no place for motorists to buy ethanol in Maryland.

The grand opening of the E-85 pump - marked with red, white and blue balloons, and stars and stripes banners - attracted the attention of motorists zipping by on Laurel Fort Meade Road, but few stopped to buy.

By midafternoon, station co-owner Kevin Falls said, 20 vehicles had come in for an ethanol fill-up. He said 17 were government vehicles and three represented the general public.

"E-85 is a little expensive," Falls said. "People who are going to buy it are either patriotic or very concerned about the environment. Ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline." The station was selling E-85 for $1.339 a gallon, the same price as its premium gasoline. Regular unleaded was $1.099 a gallon.

Falls said he was breaking even selling E-85 at that price, and indicated that the price might be going up a few cents a gallon in the near future. Falls described as a "no-brainer" the decision to install an E-85 tank at his four-pump station less than a mile from Fort Meade.

He said a federal grant, along with funds from the Maryland Grain Producers, paid the $68,000 cost of opening the E-85 pump. "If I had to pay for it myself, I doubt I would have done it," he said.

Hoot said five other E-85 stations are to open in the next three years, including one in Baltimore.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation praised the opening of the ethanol station. Theresa Pierno, executive director, said ethanol is less polluting than gasoline and the production of grain for ethanol could be an economic stimulus to keep farmers farming.

While the ethanol for the Chevron station was trucked in from Illinois, Maryland could soon have its own ethanol plant. Hoot said the grain producers are moving ahead on plans for a $30 million plant that would produce up to 15 million gallons of ethanol a year.

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