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BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Wal-Mart is currently considering installing more than 1,400 ethanol pumps at its Wal-Mart and SAM'S Club stations -- eight at Wal-Mart stores, 380 more stations in SAM'S CLUB locations and an additional 946 stations in Wal-Mart locations operated by Murphy Oil Corp.
"Our goal would be to make E85 available across the U.S." senior strategy manager of fuel, Rich Ezell, told Fortune.
Fortune reports that Wal-Mart could see E85 -- what it calls "America's Fuel" -- as a new profit center, since the retailing aspect of the industry is scarce. E85 also helps its customers save money and it promotes the company's efforts to have environmentally friendly business practices.
To help it make this decision, the company has employed "sustainable value networks" of suppliers, environmentalists, industry experts and government officials, Fortune reported.
If it does decide to provide E85 fuel, it "would be a complete game-changer," Reid Detchon, executive director for the Energy Future Coalition told Fortune. "Everybody knows where the local Wal-Mart is. You would immediately know where to buy E85."
According to Fortune however, insiders said that the company isn't ready to take on such a commitment. It would have to have access to a sufficient supply of ethanol that is competitively priced with gasoline. It will also wait for pumps to get certified by the Underwriters Laboratory, a company that tests products' safety.
The type of ethanol is also a concern. Fuel made from corn or sugar cane might create undo stress on the food supply, believes some experts. They recommend using cellulosic ethanol, made from prairie switchgrass, corn husks or other agricultural waste. The hitch, reported Fortune is that cellulosic ethanol is not mass produced, and is not expected to be for a few years.
A future government subsidy of 51 cents per gallon for ethanol also has Wal-Mart holding in the reins.
But Detchon, who has been working with the ethanol industry since the 80s, feels that the current tensions with gasoline will fuel a desire for ethanol. "If oil stays at anything like these prices, I think ethanol will grow as fast as the farmers can produce it. We are on the cusp of a fundamental change."