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SAN ANTONIO -- H.E. Butt Grocery Co. is planning to offer an alternative fuel to the more than 450,000 Texas drivers who own flex-fuel vehicles, starting with five fuel sites along IH-35, stretching from here to Waco. It expects the program to be operational before the end of the summer, and said more sites will eventually follow suit.
The chain said it will give drivers of flex-fuel vehicles the chance to buy E-85, a renewable and domestically produced alternative fuel. E-85 is a blended fuel comprised of 15 percent gasoline and 85 percent ethanol, which is produced from corn and other grain products grown in the United States. HEB said its offering of this alternative fuel means Texas motorists can reduce their dependence on foreign oil.
"We have deep Texas roots and an unwavering commitment to doing what's right for our customers, and they've made it clear they want an alternative to foreign oil," said James Aulds, HEB's vice president of petroleum marketing, in a statement. "Our customers will also appreciate the fact that E-85 is less expensive and cleaner burning than traditional gasoline."
The grocer said it strategically chose the five sites located along IH-35, the main artery that runs from Mexico to Canada, in order to offer E-85 to as many Texas drivers as possible. HEB also picked the sites for their proximity to major fleet operations, including the Texas Department of Transportation and the U.S Army's Fort Hood.
The locations are HEB stores already equipped with gas stations, in Schertz, Buda, Austin, Killeen, and Waco. The chain is refitting the sites with special underground tanks and new dispensers specially designed for E-85.
E-85 can be as much as 30 cents per gallon less expensive than unleaded gasoline, said HEB. According to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition, E-85 has the highest oxygen content of any transportation fuel, making it burn cleaner than gasoline with as much as 39 to 46 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide.
The company is also planning an educational and promotional campaign to inform customers about the benefits of E-85 and how it works with flex-fuel vehicles. More than 450,000 Texas drivers already own flex-fuel vehicles but don't have the opportunity to benefit from the advantages of using E-85, because the fuel is not yet widespread in Texas, it noted.
"This is only the beginning for E-85 at HEB," Aulds said. "We're seeing enormous support for this decision and already getting strong signals about customer demand. We're committed to leading the way in serving this market."
Meanwhile, forbes.com, quoting a Wal-Mart company spokesperson, reports that Wal-Mart Stores Inc may offer ethanol made from corn at its 383 U.S. gas stations.
Wal-Mart stressed it is not ready yet to make any announcements, but corn growers said Wal-Mart's entry into a market now mainly made up of scattered independent gas stations would be a significant boost to a budding new fuel industry.
The world's largest retailer brought together a group of industry, government and academic experts on alternative fuels in Washington last week to discuss how Wal-Mart could develop a network for supplying gas stations at its stores and Sam's Clubs with E-85 fuel.
'We are considering E-85, absolutely,' Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Gardner said in the report.
“We are looking to continue to work with and identify strategic partners in the business community to further our efforts in the alternative fuels arena. That said, there are a lot of things we are looking at and considering and we just don't have anything to announce right now,” Gardner said.
Wal-Mart owns and operates gas stations at 375 of its nearly 570 Sam's Club locations and another eight on the grounds of Wal-Mart stores. Outside companies operate gas stations at more than 1,000 Wal-Marts nationally, but Wal-Mart cannot dictate whether they offer E-85, Gardner said.