Tucson group leads new fuel initiative

KINGMAN – Area consumers wanting to use alternative and renewable fuels in their automobiles may have the option soon, if distributors are convinced it’s profitable.

A few stations in the Tucson area and Maricopa County carry E85 ethanol and bio-diesel fuels, and the Tucson Clean Cities Coalition recently met with representatives of the Lower Colorado River Resource Conservation and Development Council (RC&D) to bring the fuels to pumps in the Northwestern region.

“It just makes sense to bring it to your area,” said Coalition Manager Colleen Crowninshield.

Crowninshield said there are more than 110,000 flex-fuel vehicles in Arizona that can use E85 ethanol fuels – pure grain alcohol made by a distilling process from corn and other agricultural products, blended with 15 percent petroleum.

The National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition identifies eight manufacturers that include Ford, General Motors, Mercury and Nissan that build vehicles that are E85 compatible.

Crowninshield’s estimate doesn’t include diesel vehicles, any of which can burn bio-diesel, made from soybeans and restaurant grease, or out of state travelers.

Crowninshield said there are three stations in the Tucson area pumping the fuels and two in Sierra Vista, adding that consumer demand would justify bringing them to Northern Arizona.

“We just have to find a distributor in the area to bring them there,” she said, adding that she has identified gas stations in the region that would be willing to pump the fuels if there was a distributor to provide them.

Additionally, more processing plants are coming online to produce alternative fuels, she said, identifying a Pinal County-based plant scheduled to start manufacturing ethanol next February, with a projected output of 55 million gallons the first year, by her estimate, and a distillery in Northern Arizona that makes prickly pear vodka as well as ethanol.

The federal Clean Cities program provides several tax credits for consumers and businesses converting to alternative fuels through the Energy Policy Act of 2005, according to the Web site for the Department of Energy.

Crowninshield said Ethanol is cheaper than regular gas, though there are mixed benefits.

“It’s better for the engine, but you do get a reduced fuel economy. You get an increase in performance,” she said, adding that the fuel burns cleaner and produces a third less air pollution.

Alternative fuel demand for the moment, however, seems to be running on moral initiative.

Crowninshield said many consumers want to do their part to support American farmers and not give their money to overseas producers.

“Consumers want to do their part to reduce our reliance on foreign oil,” she said.

Bill Shilling, an RC&D representative in the Kingman area, said bringing the fuel to a still largely rural area presents some roadblocks and that distributors would have to see the profit potential.

“It’s so far removed from us, logistically,” he said.

“The major fuel companies are going to have to allow our retailers to pump it.”