DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – An auto industry executive says the ethanol industry must work to make higher blends of the fuel more available as an increasing number of car buyers begin driving flex-fuel vehicles.
Mary Beth Stanek, GM's director for Environment and Energy, said the company remains committed to flex-fuel technology, but also is working on the development of electric hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell technology.
Since only so much funding is available for research and development ''we need to see a corresponding of support from the (ethanol) industry'' to make sure that the fuels are available to drivers and that the flex-fuel vehicles ''are experiencing the fuel,'' said Stanek, who manages GM's partnerships with ethanol producers.
''We're not going to work on power trains when we don't have fuel for it, and we're certainly going to make sure that it's economical for consumers as well,'' she told dozens of renewable fuels industry leaders and media who attended a biofuels forum put on by Successful Farming magazine on Tuesday.
Making available E85 – an 85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline blend – shouldn't be ''as hard as people are making it,'' Stanek said.
''I'm not saying it's easy, but ... we can all work together to get more E85 out there,'' she said. ''I just don't feel it's insurmountable.''
While the ethanol industry frequently announces the opening of new E85 pumps, the blend really is ''a classic chicken and the egg'' scenario, said Matt Hartwig, a spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association, a national trade group.
To make it mainstream, he said there need to be vehicles that can burn it, the infrastructure to make it and transport it, and the need for more technology to produce enough ethanol to supply the higher E85 demands. That includes more development in cellulosic ethanol production, which breaks down organic material from various plants, not just corn, to make ethanol.
GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler have said they aim to have half of annual vehicle production be E85 flexible fuel or biodiesel capable by 2012. For Detroit-based GM, the world's largest auto maker, that means stepping up production from 400,000 of the flex-fuel vehicles each year to 800,000.
The price of the parts that help vehicles use E85 can range from $150 to $500. But for the auto manufacturers, Stanek said the investment into the technology to make the vehicles run correctly on the fuel is ''quite expensive.''
''It's not the parts in the box, it's about the investment into the engineering expense,'' she said. ''We are willing to do that, and we're going as fast as we can.''