October 27, 2005

High Pump Prices Have Some Seeking Fuel Alternatives

When gas prices were nearing $3 per gallon, motorists across the area were scratching their heads, pondering what they could do to avoid paying escalating fuel prices.

While current prices have come down some, the average cost of $2.76 per gallon in the Midwest is still more than 80 cents a gallon higher than just one year ago according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Itís just 81 cents, but when you stop and consider that motorists in Missouri use 8.3 million gallons of gas per day, that represents $6.7 million a day more being spent to get back and forth to work, to the grocery store or to go on that Sunday drive.

According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources the typical Missouri vehicle uses approximately 600 gallons of fuel and is driven more than 16,000 miles each year. So on average, drivers will spend close to $500 more at the pump in 2005.

Unless one owns stock in an oil well, motorists would probably rather spend that $500 on something else. There are options to try to offset the added expenditure.

One such opportunity can be seen in the new hybrid vehicles that combine gasoline engines with electric motors to power the car.

One example than can be seen locally is the Toyota Prius. Fritz and Janet Gerth recently purchased a 2005 model year Prius specifically for the fuel efficiency. The hybrid ranked at the top among mid-sized cars available today by generating an average of 55 miles per gallon of gasoline.

ďWith our kids living in Columbia, Florida and Wisconsin, it just made sense to take gas mileage into consideration,Ē said Janet Gerth. ďStill it was pretty amazing, the first time I went to fill up the car, it only took six gallons of gas, and we had driven 480 miles.Ē

The Prius sports an efficient gas engine with an emissions-free electric motor that generates the industryís best gas mileage while also proving to be more environmentally friendly as far as emissions.

The hybrid features a regenerative braking system that converts otherwise wasted kinetic energy into electricity, automatically recharging Priusí battery so it never has to be plugged in. The regenerative braking allows the motor to act as a generator when braking, converting the kinetic energy of the carís motion into electric energy that recharges the battery, further increasing the hybridís fuel economy.

Those that prefer to stick with standard gasoline-powered rides should be able to find a little relief thanks to farmers.

Ethanol and biodiesel are two alternative fuels that folks living amongst the nationís corn and soybean fields can only hope will eventually replace imported oil as the nationís top fuel source.

Ethanol is a clean-burning, high-octane fuel produced from corn, a renewable resource grown locally. A blend of 10% ethanol, 90% gasoline (called E10) can be used in any make or model of vehicle. E85, a mix of 85 percent ethanol is also available but may only be used in specific flexible fuel vehicles (FFV).

Farmers will be the first to tell you that a bushel of corn sells for less than a barrel of crude oil, so why isnít ethanol replacing gasoline at the pumps.

The problem is, there are only 87 ethanol plants currently producing in the United States. The U.S. ethanol industry produced a record 3.4 billion gallons of ethanol in 2004, which was roughly 3 percent of the fuel used in the U.S.

Congress is pursuing an aggressive energy policy that calls for a Renewable Fuels Standard that would provide for a market of 8 billion gallons of ethanol by 2012, more than doubling the current supply. Still that will displace only roughly five percent of the nations dependence on foreign oil (dropping from 67.4 percent to 62.3 percent - 2.125 billion barrels of crude oil, taking $64.1 billion away from foreign oil producers) according to a LECG report.

The American Coalition for Ethanol notes that E10 currently sells for as much as 10-cents less per gallon than 100 percent unleaded gasoline and E85 can be bought for as much as 50-cents per gallon less.

In addition to the cost savings, ethanol means higher profits for local farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that every 100 million bushels of corn used to produce ethanol increases the price of corn by 3 to 5-cents per bushel.

If you prefer soybeans instead of corn or that vehicle runs on diesel instead of gasoline, then biodiesel is the ticket.

Biodiesel is the name of a clean burning alternative fuel, produced from domestic, renewable resources. Biodiesel contains no petroleum, but it can be blended at any level with petroleum diesel to create a biodiesel blend. It can be used in compression-ignition (diesel) engines with little or no modifications. Biodiesel is biodegradable, nontoxic, and essentially free of sulfur and aromatics.

Biodiesel is better for the environment because it is made from renewable resources and has lower emissions compared to petroleum diesel. It is less toxic than table salt and biodegrades as fast as sugar. Since it is made in the USA from renewable resources such as soybeans, its use decreases dependence on foreign oil and contributes to our own economy.

The only problem is, biodiesel currently costs more than standard diesel fuels.

Locals still might want to consider the alternative fuel considering a study completed in 2001 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It found that an average annual increase of the equivalent of 200 million gallons of soy-based biodiesel demand would boost total crop cash receipts by $5.2 billion cumulatively by 2010, resulting in an average net farm income increase of $300 million per year. The price for a bushel of soybeans would increase by an average of 17 cents annually during that ten-year period.

Just some fuel for thought.

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