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The cover story of next month's edition of Consumer Reports, the monthly magazine published by the nonprofit Consumers Union, puts the spotlight on ethanol. In the story, entitled, "The Ethanol Myth," the magazine reports on its test of E85 fuel, concluding that the 85 percent ethanol/15 percent gasoline mix will produce cleaner emissions, but automobiles using it will get poorer fuel economy.
The story supports many of the same points repeatedly made by fuel and convenience store industry advocates.
The report's authors claim that despite the support of the Bush administration and major American car companies, "E85 is unlikely to fill more than a small percentage of U.S. energy needs."
Although E85 emits fewer smog-causing pollutants than gasoline, it provides fewer miles per gallon, costs more and is difficult to find outside the Midwest, according to the article. And, ironically, government support for so-called flexible-fuel vehicles is indirectly causing more gasoline consumption than less, says Consumer Reports.
Among the report's key findings:
• A test of E85 fuel versus gasoline (blended with 10 percent ethanol) in a 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe found that the SUV got 21 miles per gallon on the highway with gasoline, but only 15 miles per gallon with E85. In city driving, the vehicle got 9 miles per gallon with gas and only 7 miles per gallon with E85. Acceleration was about the same with both fuels. E85, however, emitted only 1 part per million of nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere, while the gasoline vehicle emitted 9 parts per million of the pollutant.
• There are only 800 stations nationwide that sell E85 and most are in the upper Midwest. However, since the beginning of 2005, the number of E85 stations has doubled and Wal-Mart recently said it is considering selling E85 at its 385 gas stations across the nation.
• The three domestic car manufacturers are ramping up production of flex-fuel vehicles that can run on E85, spurred on by generous credits from the government. Ethanol proponents say the credits help create a market for ethanol by putting more E85 vehicles on the road. But, the magazine points out that an indirect result is that the car companies have little reason to cut back on building large, gas-guzzling vehicles because of the credit -- thus increasing gas consumption.
The article also touches on other hot topics in the ethanol debate, such as the issue of diverting corn (from which ethanol is derived) from the food supply into the energy supply, and provides consumers with tips on how to find the lowest gasoline prices.