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Ag Secretary To Discuss Flex Fuel

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture chose a Nashville convenience store with E85 fuel pumps to talk about the need to increase production and acceptance of alternative fuels.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack chose a Nashville convenience store with E85 fuel pumps to talk about the need to increase the production and consumer acceptance of alternative fuels.

Vilsack boosted the need to depend less on imported oil and said the nation's economic recovery is affected by the U.S. appetite for Middle East crude because it is harder to keep a recovery going while energy costs increase. The secretary outlined three steps that he called important and necessary.

"First of all, we need to look for greater efficiency in the vehicles that we currently have so that we use our energy wisely," he said.

Vilsack also cited the need to drill for more oil and natural gas domestically and to expand the use of biofuels.

The Obama administration has set a goal of installing 10,000 flexible fuel pumps nationwide within five years.

With television station recorders rolling, Vilsack recalled his youthful days pumping gasoline and proceeded to dispense E85 into a sport utility vehicle that brought him to make the speech.

Vilsack spoke Monday at a Thorntons store. Louisville, Ky.-based Thorntons owns convenience stores across the Midwest and into the South. In addition to the usual 10 percent ethanol blended fuel, the stores also have pumps that dispense E85 -- a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. The chain also pumps B20 diesel fuel, which contains 20 percent ethanol.

About 8 million vehicles currently on U.S. highways can burn E85 fuel.

Getting drivers to use it depends largely on education and availability, Vilsack said. The USDA is providing incentives for station owners to install pumps that will deliver the fuel.

Asked whether using corn as the source of ethanol will become a "food or fuel" issue, Vilsack said production of corn ethanol is capped at 15 billion gallons per year and production has already reached about 13 billion gallons.

The need to find other sources is being researched and funded through UDSA grant programs, he said.

Noting Congress's cost-cutting mood, Vilsack said he hopes legislative leaders will look at how the money is used.

"You can cut your way out (of recessive times) or you can grow you way out," he said.

One source is switchgrass and a demonstration refinery is operating in Vonore, Tenn. Vilsack also cited the use of woody plants, farm byproducts such as corn cobs and animal wastes and other sources that he said could provide additional income to farmers while further reducing dependence on imported petroleum
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