Something new when filling your car

Source: BY DAN VOORHIS, The Wichita Eagle • Posted: Monday, October 3, 2016

Wichita got its first ethanol blender pumps this week, complete with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, at the Jump Start gas station near 21st and West Street.

Ethanol is ethyl alcohol, chemically the same as the alcohol found in liquor or beer, and distilled in large quantities in refineries from corn and other grains. Almost all fuel sold in gas stations is 10 percent ethanol, or E10.

But that is changing. Because of a federal grant, drivers can pull into Jump Start for pumps that supply fuel that is 10 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent or 85 percent ethanol.

Because ethanol is less expensive than gasoline, the higher the percentage, the lower the cost of a gallon of fuel. But the higher the blend, the lower the gas mileage because ethanol contains slightly less energy per volume.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved the use of E15 for all cars and light- and medium-duty trucks built after 2000. For blends over E15, a vehicle needs to be marked as “flex fuel.”

Moves to increase the use of ethanol have been fought fiercely by the petroleum industry, as well as many manufacturers, who say ethanol damages engines.

But there were no doubts among those gathered at the Jump Start on Friday morning. Representatives of the Kansas corn and sorghum industries, the convenience store industry and the Kansas Department of Agriculture all spoke.

Phil Near, the owner of the station, put the pumps in because he said he is a big backer of ethanol.

“It is the right thing to do,” he said.

He and his wife, Cheryl Werth Near, like it because it supports Kansas farmers, reduces demand for oil and reduces the components of gasoline that evaporate into the air, which they contend pose a health threat.

It’s still a question whether this is a harbinger of a broader availability at local gas stations of the higher blends of ethanol that the ethanol industry has pushed for so fervently.

Phil Near said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Biofuels Infrastructure Program paid 90 percent of the cost of pump, although that is only about half the $60,000 or so that it cost for a fully installed and connected pump.

That’s probably too expensive for a lot of stations to make a switch, even with government grants. It might be limited to new stations and those that are modernizing their pumps.

Jeff Scharping, director of government affairs for ethanol company ICM, said that the federal government is pushing gas stations with new regulations that will force many to change out their fuel pumps anyway. In the future, he said, he expects a lot of pumps around town to at least dispense E15, and maybe a full range of blends.

“Anybody can do this,” he said