Alternative Fuel Hits the Pump in Idaho

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's new Suburban gets 100 miles for every gallon of gas used – because it runs on a new alternative fuel that's 85 percent ethanol.

Nov. 6—BOISE, Idaho—Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's new Suburban gets 100 miles for every gallon of gas used ”“ because it runs on a new alternative fuel that's 85 percent ethanol.

The first Idaho pump to sell the new fuel, dubbed E85, opened Friday, with the governor as the first customer at the pump. Also in attendance were the mayors of Boise and Nampa, who also are switching to the new fuel. Plus, state and local government fleets in the Boise area plan to begin purchasing "flexible fuel" vehicles that can use the special fuel.

"Eighty-five percent of the fuel that we use in our vehicles can be raised right here in our state," Kempthorne said. "That strikes a real blow for independence for the United States."

Ethanol typically is produced from farm products including corn.

Idaho has one ethanol plant, operated by Simplot Corp., that produces ethanol from potatoes. Four other plants are in various stages of development. Idaho officials said ethanol is cleaner-burning than regular gasoline, and its use will protect air quality in the Boise valley, where that's been a big concern.

Kempthorne said he's retiring his 12-year-old black Suburban, inherited from the Idaho State Police motor pool, in favor of the shiny, long, black new one.

"I just can't emphasize enough ”“ this makes sense," Kempthorne said.

The first E85 pump in Idaho is at a Stinker station in Boise, and additional Stinker stations will add the fuel in the future. But at the moment, no North Idaho outlets are planned.

Toni Hardesty, state DEQ director, said the idea is to start with the Boise metropolitan area, where large state government vehicle fleets can provide a ready market for the new fuel, and then spread out from there.

The "flexible fuel" vehicles also can run on lower-ethanol blends or even on regular gasoline, when they go where E85 isn't available.

However, the E85 fuel can't be used in regular gas-powered vehicles.

An array of auto manufacturers produce flexible-fuel vehicles, with General Motors producing about a third of the 4 million now on the roads in the United States. Most of the available models are SUVs and pickups, but Gary Herwick, director of alternate fuels for GM, said his company will offer a sedan in 2006.

The governor's new state-owned Suburban will arrive in a couple of weeks, but he borrowed a similar new one to pump the first E85 fuel Friday. The fuel is 15 percent unleaded gasoline.

The newest flexible-fuel vehicles include some specifically designed for police use.

E85 is sold at about 60 stations in 16 states, according to an Environmental Protection Agency fact sheet.

Overall mileage actually is somewhat lower with E85 than with gasoline, but the EPA said E85 produces 40 percent less carbon monoxide than regular gas, 20 percent fewer particulate emissions, and fewer total toxics.

Ethanol production is energy-intensive, but ethanol boosters say significantly more energy is produced by using the fuel than goes into its production.

Said Kempthorne: "Everyone needs to do their part to reduce America's dependence on imported oil and energy. One of the best ways is to use alternative fuels."

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