Ethanol-free gas growing in popularity, despite cost

Source: CRAIG DAVISON, WSLS, Roanoke, VA • Posted: Monday, March 26, 2012

Candy Burnett has to drive about 90 minutes each way from her home in Lynchburg to her job in Rocky Mount, so gas mileage is important to her.

For the past two to three years, she has been fueling up at gas stations that sell pure gasoline. She said that as long as she can find gas stations that sell ethanol-free gasoline, she will buy it.

It’s not the most common type of gas around, though.

Most of the gasoline sold throughout the nation is a gasoline blend that contains 10 percent ethanol, also known as E10, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA estimates vehicles using E10 get 3 to 4 percent fewer miles pergallon than regular gasoline.

Proponents of the fuel say it helps keep engines cleaner and running better. Burnett thinks so: She said when she takes her car in for a check-up, she is told her engine looks cleaner.

“It’s good on the car,” Burnett said. “It’s better on the engine. It gets better mileage.

Ethanol is a bio-fuel additive, made from fermenting and distilling starch crops like corn.

David Johnston, owner of two Big Horn Markets on Leesville Road, said the use of a blended ethanol/gasoline fuel can cause additional build-up in engines and more wear and tear.

He said it is a problem for older vehicles, high-performance cars and motorcycles.

“They need that premium gas,” he said. “Recent vehicles can get by on the regular.”

Johnston sells 87 octane ethanol-free fuel at his store at 19293 Leesville Road and 93 octane regular gasoline at his store at 612 Leesville Road. Both stores also sell E10 gasoline.

Sapan Sachdeva, partner at Burley’s Market at 14074 Wards Road, said his station started selling 90-octane ethanol-free gas 10 days ago. He said regular gasoline works well for small engines, boats or lawn mowers, where the engine might sit for a while before being used, allowing build-up.

Like Big Horn, Burley’s also sells E10 gasoline. Sachdeva said they started selling the fuel due to customer demand, and reaction has been positive.

“It’s been a week and we’ve seen quite a demand,” he said on Friday. “You can already see people are very excited about it.”

Zip Gas on Lakeside Drive also sells ethanol-free gasoline.

There is a downside to the ethanol-free gasoline – cost.

The price for the unblended gasoline is higher than normal prices. Johnston said the customers who buy the gasoline are willing to pay the extra price because of the mileage and less wear and tear on the vehicle.

“The people that are buying it are not really that concerned over it,” he said. “They know they’re paying more for it, but they believe it’s a better buy.”

At Sachdeva’s store on Friday, the price for ethanol-free fuel was $3.939, the same price as the premium 93 octane E10 gas. The interest from customers and the extra people drawn to the station are worth it, though.

“It looks like we’re going to have a very good summer,” he said.