E85 ethanol in California

The following is a long post that may only be of interest to US residents, or those abnormally interested in the state of E85 ethanol availability in California. For reasons that will become evident as you read further, Cali is pretty important in the grand scheme of things, and to Saab’s US BioPower plans in particular.

1985Gripen’s put most of this together, I’ve done a little foreground work.

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A few years back, The Governator was all green and touchy-feely, announcing the purchase of over a thousand Flex Fuel vehicles for the state of California’s government fleet. The vehicles made their way into the state service and, of course, have been running on regular gasoline, not E85, ever since.

Why?

Because the vast majority of California doesn’t have any access whatsoever to E85 fuel.

Due to some perceptions of illegal procurement that are floating around, this farcical contract may now be coming back to bite Schwarzenegger on the butt (I’ll be back – ha!), but all that still leaves the important questions on the table – will Californian residents get access to E85? Is it important that they do? Is it important for Saab that they do? And what’s going on?

Gripen?

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♪How are things on the West Coast? I hear you’re moving real fine…♪

Thanks for the “shout-out”, Interpol, but actually we’re not movin’ real fine. We’re barely movin’, I’m sorry to report. The problem is traffic congestion. Los Angeles just yet again earned the dubious title of “city with the worst traffic congestion” in the U.S. Thanks, what do we get?

Why am I constantly talking about Los Angeles and SoCal? Well, besides the fact that I’m a native (of Burbank, California actually), it totally rocks. It’s also got some importance to SAAB, too. Hear me out while I try and play “six degrees of separation” so that you can see where I’m going with this.

    – The United States is SAAB’s largest market.

    – One in eight Americans live in California.

    – The State of California is home to over 36 million residents. The Greater Los Angeles Area is home to nearly 18 million documented residents (and a very large undocumented population). That’s almost twice the population of Sweden (which is just over 9 million).

    – California is one of SAAB’s largest markets within the United States.

    – California has some of the strictest emissions laws in the country, and is very progressive when it comes to alternative energy and new ideas.

    – Within the City of Los Angeles is an area called Hollywood, which for some unknown reason receives national as well as international interest as to its goings-on and happenings. What is trendy in Hollywood often moves out from there. If carrying around a little dog in a handbag while wearing a skirt and Ugg boots is popular in Hollywood, it shan’t be too long before you’ll see young women wearing similarly inappropriate attire carrying a Chihuahua in an Yves Saint-Laurant handbag in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

SAAB USA gets this. A month ago or so SAAB USA President Steve Shannon speculated with me how desirable the 9³ BioPower convertible would be with the Hollywood elite. He asked, “what Hollywood star wouldn’t rather drive up to the red carpet in a SAAB convertible than a Prius?” Mr. Shannon pointed-out that there is a severe lack of E85 fueling stations in California though, with none at all in Los Angeles.

In fact, there is currently only one E85 fueling station in the state open to the public and it is about 150 miles away from Los Angeles in San Diego. There are three other E85 fueling stations, but they are on military bases and closed to the public, and two more public stations slated to open next year down in the San Diego area.

ConservLogo Los Angeles is slated to get its first E85 station. A new fueling station called Conserv Fuel has opened in the affluent Brentwood area of West L.A. and currently offers B99 bio-diesel for sale as well as the typical three varieties of unleaded gasoline, fortified with the usual 10% ethanol as required by state law. This mixture (E10) used to be referred to as “gasohol” (and it was good enough for James Bond’s SAAB 900 Turbo) but it’s what every gas station in California now dispenses.

Conserv Fuel has been teasing me with “coming soon” notations at the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition website for quite a few months now. I stopped-by today to see what I could learn.

ConservFuel

I spoke with a representative of Conserv Fuel, Joy Cernac. She was very excited to report to me that just today she secured a source of ethanol which is not corn based, but rather locally-sourced waste! The station will soon dispense E85 containing ethanol created from waste wine and spirits. She tells me it’s wine and spirits that for one reason or another couldn’t be sold. I’ve never heard of such a source and I asked her if she’s sure that they can get enough of the stuff to satisfy demand. Ms. Cernac quoted how many barrels per time period she secured, and it was a lot (I remember “…hundred thousand barrels per…”). I wish I’d had a pen and paper to give you more information, but I just dropped by there on the way back from another business trip in Mexico, so I wasn’t wearing my TrollhattanSaab “reporter hat” at the time.

As you know, there’s been quite a bit of opposition to ethanol right now in the U.S. with various arguments (the one which really bothered Steve Shannon was this opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times), one of them being that it’s using food for fuel. I think it’ll be hard to argue that waste wine and spirits is using “food for fuel” in this case.

I took some photos of the station and a leaflet. Joy gave me her business card and told me that the info should be up on their website soon. I asked what kind of timeframe we’re looking at before they start selling E85 and she really couldn’t tell me. She’s been fighting through bureaucracy and red tape trying to get approvals. She’s already received approval from two city agencies, but is in the process of filling out paperwork for the local air management agency and local fire department licenses. The NEVA website has been updated to read “Coming October, 2007”. We’ll see.

The current per-gallon price of regular unleaded (87 octane) gasohol at Conserv Fuel is $3.07, “plus” unleaded (89 octane) gasohol is $3.19, and premium unleaded (91 octane) is $3.29. B99 is $3.49. For those of you who don’t reside in the U.S. that works out to:

    $0.82 per liter for regular unleaded
    $0.84 per liter for plus unleaded
    $0.87 per liter for premium unleaded
    $0.92 per liter for B99 bio-diesel

Fuel tax included. I know, it’s disgusting. And California has far higher fuel prices than the rest of the nation. And no state taxes based on the displacement of your engine or carbon dioxide emissions. Oil prices closed over $80 a barrel this week. The U.S. economy is weakening by the day as evidenced by the fact that the U.S. dollar trades at a record low against the Euro and the U.S. dollar dropped to the same level as the Canadian dollar for the first time since 1976. But can you tell in day-to-day life? Kind of makes you understand why people buy HUMMERs. Well, maybe not.

Current fuel pricing is available on Conserv Fuel’s website.

Electric chargingMy personal hope is that someday these signs, seen all around California, will mean something once again.

Until then I can hope that SAAB will bring their BioPower cars over to the States and stars will be cruising around in SAAB convertibles, fueling-up at Conserv Fuels and other stations to sell E85. Hey, it’s better overall for the environment than running on E10 (which by the way, your Prius runs on, Miss Diaz)!

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Hopefully, if ConservFuel can get their ethanol source sorted out, it won’t be too long before we see this sign complete with an E85 price, and then more stations like it around LA and the rest of Cali.

Saab will have a better BioPower market when they do, and the Governator might just be able to get his butt out of the sling!

ConservFuel Sign

Conserv leaflet

Conserv leaflet

Conserv leaflet

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11 Comments

  1. Gripen – If their discarded wine source takes off will that mean price increses for Two-Buck Chuck at Trader Joes? 😉

    Like the brochure says – the most realistic way to reduce gasoline use on a large scale today is to drive more fuel efficient cars – according to the Sierra Club a 3% CAFE improvement reduces more demand for oil as the entire 2006 production of ethanol in the US.

    On E85 – I think using local resources is the only way Ethanol is going to pay off:
    -Apparently ethanol can’t be pumped through existing pipelines, so moving corn ethanol from the midwest to the coasts means burning fuel for tranport.
    -Here is an article AutoBlogGreen referenced a couple weeks ago about why corn ethanol isn’t right for CA (the new insight relates to scant water resources in the West – reminds me of a documentary called “Cadillac Desert”)

    In NorCal we have plenty of cellulosic agricultural waste in the Central Valley, more of that pre-fermented viticulture waste in Napa/Sonoma Valleys, lumber byproducts from forestry in the coastal range and Sierras, etc. I’d rather see more local ethanol “entrepreneurs” than have big corporations limit the options for production.

    I also think auto makers should be looking towards Silicon Valley for more innovation around electric and hybrid concepts (the coolest EV on the market today -Tesla Roadster- was designed here). Think about how many Hollywood types would like to be seen in an E85 hybrid 9-3 convertible.

  2. I think you have two questions, does California need ethanol and does ethanol need California.

    I don’t know the answer to the first question but the answer to the second question is no.

    Ethanol is moving ahead very strongly into production areas that don’t use corn and we might be surprised by the possiblities. The population centers along the east and west coasts are really irrelevant to the ethanol industry right now.

  3. TimJ: I was thinking that those celebrities who are always getting busted for DUI can claim that they were just on their way to fuel their car! 😮

    Up in Madera (up your way, Tim) there’s an ethanol plant owned by Pacific Ethanol (one of the partners in that GM/Chevron/State of California ethanol partnership of a few years back) which uses locally-grown corn to create the ethanol and they use the waste from that plant for a lot of local uses (cattle feed for the local cattle industry, and carbon dioxide is sold to beverage companies for carbonating soda). There is allegedly very little waste from this plant. The plant was also located near train tracks so they could use trains rather than trucks for supply and distribution. I don’t know where the ethanol from this plant is going, I’m guessing it’s being blended into the gasohol our regular gas stations get, rather than being blended into E85.

    Regarding your statement “Think about how many Hollywood types would like to be seen in an E85 hybrid 9-3 convertible”. That’s exactly what I retorted to Steve Shannon when he asked me the “red carpet” rhetorical question! He just kind of seemed to brush it off. I think that though SAAB did their token hybrid concept and hasn’t taken the idea off the table, they’re really focused on ethanol-only currently, not diesel or hybrid in the States. So much was even told to me by Jan-Willem Vester of SAAB Communications, in not so many words.

    Rod H.: you might be right in your assessment, but I hardly think that “the population centers along the east and west coasts are really irrelevant to the ethanol industry right now” is absolutely wrong, or at least SHOULD be. Who really cares overall if yet another E85 pump is installed in Minnesota? This (the mid-west) is seemingly where the ethanol industry is focusing right now due to the favorable state tax incentives. But this is silly, IMHO as the market demand potential is on the coasts, not the mid-west. If the ethanol industry wants to really expand and be taken seriously they need to solve this problem of lack of distribution to the population centers, IMHO.

  4. My understanding is that E85 was included at the Conserfuel station to get additional political support. The people behind the project are more biodiesel and electric types. As a gossip aside one of those people was the one who got all those celebrities to drive Priuses to the Oscars several years ago.

  5. Just FYI, as of this past Friday Conserv Fuel finally began selling E85. Current pricing can be found at their website. Remember all prices are per U.S. gallon and include all fuel taxes (federal, state, and local where applicable).

    Unfortunately the price per-gallon of E85 is not 30% less than the price of regular unleaded gasohol (E10, or 10% ethanol, 90% gasoline) so per-mile running your car on E85 is more expensive than gasoline, considering the 30% expected “hit” in fuel economy, though the price per-gallon is less. I’m guessing that those shopping for a bargain and not as savvy will go with the E85 because the price on the big sign is lower. Those who know they’ll pay more per-gallon to drive on E85 but who live in the posh Brentwood area might not mind paying extra for altruistic reasons. You should see the number of rich people and celebrities driving Toyota Priuses here! 😉

    If you have a flex-fuel car and live in the L.A. area you can now make your way over to just the second fueling station in the State of California to offer E85 for sale to the public.

  6. Trogg: where did you hear this? From what I was told (by a representative of the station) months ago was that she was having to deal with all kinds of bureaucracy and red tape getting permits from all kinds of air quality management organizations and the local fire authorities to sell it. That’s why it took so long to sell ethanol there. They’ve been selling biodiesel all along (since the station opened last summer) and don’t even offer electric chargers for EV owners.

    Read this to learn how hard it is in supposedly progressive California to get permission to sell ethanol.

  7. Good work, Gripen!

    Prius = great mileage at a price. I am so totally NOT sold on hybrid. Take a look at Penn & Teller’s show clips on You Tube for a hilarious Prius send up. Definitely worth the time.

  8. I love P&T! I’ll have to look-into that.

    I don’t mind the idea of a hybrid. I mean, decreasing the amount of fuel (any fuel) you use has got to be a good thing, but the Prius has no style, no soul. It’s sad.

    I think the Saab convertible hybrid would have been nice, but I’d rather it favored reduced fuel consumption rather than increased power. That’s just me being a treehugger. 😉

    Anyway, I’ve got a flex-fuel company car now (2008 Chevy Impala LS) and filled-up with E85 Friday in San Diego at Pearson Fuels (my company pays for my fuel, so why not???). I’ll update you with a real-world fuel consumption comparison (E85 versus gasohol (E10)) when I generate one later in the week presumably.

  9. eggs: I found the youtube video of Penn & Teller on the Prius. Is that the one you’re referring to?

    While I really like Penn & Teller (I was actually a member of their fan club as a teen in the 80’s (and used to receive their newsletter “Mofo Knows”) and used to access their BBS before the internet!) and I was entertained by some episodes of their Showtime television show for skeptics “Bullshit” (sorry, but that’s the name of the show), I feel that some of their arguments are just plain stupid (though I did love the episode on The Bible and some others).

    For example, in this clip (which I’m assuming is from Bullshit) why would they compare the 0 to 60 time of a Prius to ANYTHING? The point of a Prius isn’t to be sporty, it’s to use the least amount of fuel possible. Maybe they should have compared the fuel economy of that Corvette to the Prius instead?

    Sometimes P&T tend to try and be controversial for the sake of being controversial. Sometimes it’s entertaining, sometimes not.

  10. Well, I couldn’t click on the link for some reason, but the upshot of the Prius commentary was that you couldn’t hold much in the car because it’s small and the batteries take up a ton of space, and the mileage was only marginally better in their comparison to another similar vehicle they used to follow the Prius on a 150-mile-ish round trip. They declared that real greenies should follow tried-and-true conservation methods such as public transportation and reducing the length and number of trips.

  11. I don’t know why that link didn’t work, but it doesn’t sound like it was the P&T clip you are referring to anyway. Let me know if you do find a link to the clip you were referring to because as I mentioned I like P&T.

    I wonder what Swade thought of An Inconvenient Truth.

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