The Sunshine State is increasingly gassing up on corn-fed fuel. Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to sign a new energy law later this week that calls for more ethanol-mixed gasoline in the state. That law doesn't go into effect until the end of 2010, but dozens of Florida gas stations are already blending the fermented fuel with good old gas. The amount of ethanol mixed with fuel reached a nationwide high in March of nearly 13.2-million barrels, according to the most recent information from the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Energy. The state doesn't track how much ethanol is being blended in Florida, but there are clear signs ethanol use is on the rise, said Jay Levenstein, deputy commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The number of gas stations offering ethanol-blended gas has increased so quickly that the state's roster of biofueled stations has fallen out of date, he said. Why is ethanol use on the rise?
In addition to Florida law, Congress passed sweeping energy legislation that pushes the country to use 36-billion gallons of biofuels a year by 2022. A 51 cents per gallon federal tax incentive, due to drop to 45 cents a gallon, encourages ethanol blending. Plus, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services recently relaxed part of its fuel standard to encourage increased ethanol blending. It's unclear what effect the recent Midwest flooding and corn crop damage will have on the ethanol industry, or on state and federal requirements. Florida's law is automatically suspended during a state of emergency, but that provision doesn't apply to emergencies in other states. The law is also not applied when ethanol becomes more expensive than gasoline. Will ethanol save me money?
Maybe. Jim Smith, president of the Florida Petroleum Marketers Association, said ethanol-blended gas is generally cheaper at the pump than straight gasoline. Merrill Lynch estimated in a report earlier this month that the booming supply of biofuels, especially ethanol, is helping to offset some of the increased global demand for oil. Without biofuels, a barrel of gasoline could cost $21 more than it does today. But it's not all good news for your wallet. The report also said 25 percent of the U.S. corn crop fed the ethanol market, driving up the price of corn by 21 percent and contributing to the rising price of food. Does ethanol hurt my car or my mileage?
A blend of 90 percent gasoline and 10 percent ethanol, called E10, will reduce mileage by about 3 percent, according the U.S. Department of Energy. That's because a gallon of ethanol contains only 65 percent of the energy of gasoline. E10 can be burned in a regular car. There were some concerns that E10 blends could cause engine knock or even engine stall, but the state's fuel quality standards protect consumers from those hazards, said Levenstein. A mix of 15 percent gasoline and 85 percent ethanol, known as E85, will reduce mileage by 25 to 30 percent. E85 requires a special engine, and could damage regular engines.