Increasing prices for gasoline are having the welcome side effect of increasing the supply of alternative fuels. Unfortunately, alternative vehicle fuels are kind of like alternative energy in general – rapid percentage growth sounds impressive until you remember what a small base exists. While there are 685 filling stations in the U.S. offering “E85″ bioethanol, for example, this is a minute fraction of America’s 165,000 gas stations.
If you want to know where to buy bioethanol, or any alternative fuel, a good source for information is the U.S. Dept. of Energy, which has a table showing “alternative fueling station counts by state and by type.”
Eventually E85, which is a mixture of 85% gasoline and 15% ethanol – usually grown from corn – will be widely available. Right now, however, unless you live in certain locales in Illinois, Iowa, or Minnesota, you will only find this fuel in very select places.
Often E85 is cheaper than ordinary gasoline, and if you drive a flexfuel vehicle, it doesn’t matter if this fuel is only available here and there. You can fill your car with gasoline most of the time, and when you find a filling station offering E85, go ahead. GM’s Flexfuel technology will allow ethanol fuel blends to proliferate into areas where it makes economic sense to sell them, without the “chicken-egg” dilemna that has plagued adoption of more exotic alternative fuels.
In the not-too-distant future it is likely no particular vehicle design will dominate. Read “Greener Cars are Coming” for more about this. A recent report in St. Louis Today (no longer archived online) notes some utilitites are permitting homeowners to attach filling devices to their home gas supplies so they can fill the tanks in their natural gas powered vehicles at home! At home refueling is also developing with the advent of “plug-in” hybrids.
Look for far more diversity in automobile fuels and automobile power-trains, and expect more decentralization – all the way to each home – of places to refuel.