FOR THE WEEK OF JULY 10, 2006
Push grows for ethanol as alternative vehicle fuel
Gasoline prices and saving money on road trips are hot topics in newspapers, especially this season. Assign students to find recent coverage focusing on fuel prices or strategies to lower driving costs.
Newspapers are full of summer fun tips, including destinations that don’t involve long drives now that gas costs nearly $3 a gallon or more. Challenge students to scout features sections for information about home-state travel, entertainment, dining, museums, parks, athletic events and other attractions within two hours of where they live. Create teams that plan weekend activities or a getaway trip based on articles and listings they find –- also without driving far from their home region.
Fuel expenses become really important to students when they drive and pay for gas, as some teens do now. Invite new-generation drivers or future motorists to join the public policy discussion about alternative fuels and vehicles by sharing their views in a letter to the editor or newspaper forum post.
High gasoline prices and concern about dependence on foreign oil are creating a louder buzz about a gasoline substitute made from corn and other grains. It’s called ethanol (pronounced eh-THAA-noll) and is available as a blended fuel at some gas stations now.
The clean-burning, high-octane fuel is sold in two forms -- E10 (10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline) and E85 (85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gas). Any U.S. vehicle can use E10, while flexible-fuel models can run on E85 or regular fuel. U.S. automakers have made 6 million flex-fuel vehicles and will build more. E85 generally costs less than regular unleaded gasoline.
Count on hearing and seeing more about this type of fuel. Congress passed requirements that refiners nearly double ethanol production during the next six years. The country’s 97 ethanol refineries will increase to more than 130 because of construction under way now. “The ethanol industry is on the move,” says President Bush, “and America is better off for it.”
Automaker says: “E85 is not the complete solution. But it’s an important start — something we can do right now to reduce our oil consumption.” -- Steven J. Harris, General Motors vice president
Foreign example: Brazil makes ethanol from sugar cane and now imports hardly any oil. The Bush administration pledges to work with Congress to reduce trade tariffs that discourage imports of Brazilian ethanol to the United States. “Twenty-five years from now, we can make foreign sources of oil go the way of the typewriter and the Walkman,” says an Environmental Protection Agency official.
Skeptics say: Drivers won’t save money because vehicles using E85 go fewer miles per gallon than they do on regular gas, so motorists will fill up more often. Because no pipelines let ethanol be distributed efficiently around the country from refineries, extra fuel is used to deliver it by rail and trucks -– raising its cost and undercutting the goal of reduced fuel consumption. And right now, E85 is hard to find in some areas and impossible in others. No stations sell it in New England or a half-dozen other states.
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