WASHINGTON – Republican Sen. Richard Lugar touted progress in an Indiana-led initiative to make renewable fuel available along nearly 900 miles of Interstate 65,calling the project an important step toward reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
The point often omitted about those efforts “is that none of this is useful unless there are outlets for the products,unless there is some thoughtfulness about the infrastructure” and how to get ethanol from the corn fields into drivers' gas tanks,Lugar said.
Lugar and others spoke at a Capitol news conference March 4.
The project to create the nation's first so-called “biofuel corridor” along Interstate 65 aims to create those outlets in Indiana,Kentucky,Tennessee and Alabama. When it is complete,a driver will be able to travel 886 miles from Gary,Ind.,to Mobile,Ala.,without being more than a quarter-tank's worth of gas from a renewable-fuel pump.
Less than one-third of the 31 renewable-fuel pumps planned in the project are up and running. Project representatives hope to have the infrastructure finished by fall,paving the way for the remaining pumps.
In 2006,Indiana's Office of Energy and Defense Development received $1.33 million through the federal Clean Cities program to fund biofuel pumps along I-65,and the groups partnering in the project have chipped in $1.54 million.
Since then,the number of public pumps in Indiana for E85 – a fuel blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline – increased from 34 to 100,seven of which were funded through the corridor project,said Julie Howe,grants finance manager for the energy office. A dozen more pumps are in the works.
Indiana fuel retailers participating in the project include Family Express,GasAmerica,Gas City,Good Oil,Speedway and Thornton's Inc.
In Kentucky,TMART/Marathon will install two pumps,and project planners are hoping for a third. Tennessee has one pump in place and two on the way,and Alabama opened the first of six planned refueling sites in early March in Birmingham,project representatives said.
Some of the Alabama sites also offer B20,a fuel blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel that can be used in diesel engines.
Customers who use renewable fuels lose between a tenth and a third of their fuel efficiency,but the lower price of renewable fuels compensates for the difference,said Kellie Walsh,executive director of the Central Indiana Clean Cities Alliance.
Walsh,who drives a Chevrolet Suburban,said she recently refueled at an Indiana station where the renewable fuel cost 70 cents less than regular gas.
At the new pump in Birmingham,the difference was about 20 cents,said Mark Bentley,executive director of the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition.
Lugar also shared a gas station story,a recollection of driving around Indiana in a renewable fuel-friendly vehicle during his 2006 re-election campaign. He kept his fingers crossed,hoping he didn't run out of fuel before a pump could be found,and celebrating when it was.