Clean-burning fuel fans, prepare to rev up your engines.
A Marathon gas station under construction in Urbana will have a pump with E85 fuel, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.
Randy Meyer, president of Meyer Oil of Teutopolis, said he plans to install an E85 tank and pump at the gas station at Philo Road and Florida Avenue in Urbana. The station will be open in about two to three months, Meyer said.
The decision came after he received state grants to help cover his costs of installing the tanks and pumps at the Urbana station as well as one in Danville, which opened last summer. Customer demand for E85 has been good at the Danville station, prompting Meyer to offer E85 in Urbana, too, he said.
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, through the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation Grant, has $250,000 (out of an original $500,000) left to help Illinois gas stations pay for installation of new tanks and new pumps for dispensing E85.
"Governor (Rod) Blagojevich is committed to working to reduce gas prices by supporting ethanol as a practical alternative. It's a cleaner burning, cheaper alternative (than gasoline) and creates jobs in Illinois," said Andrew Ross, department spokesman.
Meyer Oil is not the only gas retailer to start selling E85 in recent months. As of Wednesday, there were 605 E85 stations across the United States, up from 250 at this time last year, according to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition. The group is anticipating an additional 2,000 stations in 2006.
After the federal energy bill became effective Jan. 1, retailers were allowed to claim tax credits which would allow them to deduct up to 30 percent of their costs of installing or retrofitting stations for alternative fuels, including E85, said Michelle Kautz, director of communications for the coalition.
"Last year most (of the E85 pumps) were concentrated in the Midwest. Now with the new tax credit that will broaden the availability across the nation," Kautz said.
Only certain car and truck models are capable of running on E85. A complete list is available on the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition's Web site, www.e85fuel.com, or by calling the coalition at (877) 485-8595. If you mistakenly fill up your nonflexible fuel vehicle with E85, the check engine light may come on because the car is probably not configured to read ethanol's higher oxygen content. Long-term use of E85 in a nonflexible fuel vehicle could damage parts of the car or truck, according to the coalition.
As far as performance goes, E85 has an octane rating of 105, compared with regular unleaded gasoline which has an 87 octane rating.
The octane rating may be higher, but the fuel efficiency of a car running on E85 could decrease anywhere from 5 to 12 percent, Kautz said.
E85 at Meyer's Mach 1 Food Shop, 510 N. Gilbert St., Danville, has been running 20 to 40 cents cheaper per gallon compared with regular unleaded gasoline, Meyer said.
A few months ago, when gasoline prices were at record levels, E85 was about 30 to 70 cents per gallon cheaper than regular gas in Illinois, said Mark Lambert, spokesman for the Illinois Corn Growers Association. At that time, there was a glut of ethanol in the market.
"Ethanol wasn't being absorbed fast enough," Lambert said.
Since then however, E85 has risen in price because the cost of ethanol has risen. One reason is supply and demand.
"There's huge demand for ethanol right now, even though we're breaking production records every month. They can't make ethanol fast enough," Lambert said.
More stations are buying E85, more automobiles are capable of running on E85, the automotive industry has been promoting the flexible fuel vehicles more, and more people are buying these cars, Kautz and Lambert said.
"We are continuing to pump out ethanol and that's the good news," Lambert said. The price will moderate at some point, but whether that happens in the next few months or in a year remains to be seen, he said.