Fueling Up on Education

Informing millions on the benefits of using alternative fuels
By Kris Bevill | November 15, 2010
One chilly mid-October day, as a steady stream of customers rolled into a Fargo, N.D., gas station, patient members of the Clean Air Coalition stood ready to distribute gift bags to E85 customers and to promote it to flex-fuel vehicle (FFV) drivers who aren't using it. "What does the E' mean?" asked one obviously under-educated FFV driver. He was eventually convinced to try E30. Other drivers opted for regular gasoline despite the 60-cent-per-gallon discount on E85 that day. Some readily took advantage of the price break.

The day-long promotional event was part the National Alternative Fuel Vehicle Day Odyssey, a biennial nationwide educational effort held this year on Oct. 15. More than 100 events were held throughout the U.S., all focused on increasing public awareness about alternative fuels and vehicles. Organized by the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium, this year's events were funded partially by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through a U.S. DOE grant, and by the Clean Cities Learning Program. Retail stations offered discounts on E85, biodiesel and other alternative fuels in addition to hosting educational activities for customers.

In California, Pearson Fuels took the opportunity to give E85 away for two hours at pumps in Sacramento and Ventura. Co-owner Mike Lewis says Pearson sold E85 at $1.85 per gallon for a 12-hour time period at five of its other locations, but decided to give it away at the newer pumps in order to attract customers. "Basically, we're trying to take away every excuse for people not to try it," he says. Pearson pumped about 1,000 gallons of E85 between the two locations that day. "We could have given out much more, but that would have involved getting the word out much more in advance and I was a little leery about causing problems," he says. "If we got the word out too much, traffic could be lined up You don't want to shut the pump off with 100 people in line."

Lewis says he personally assisted two FFV drivers in fueling with E85 for the first time, potentially turning them into lifelong E85 users. "They just happened to pull up to the pump during the two-hour period that it was being given away, in a flex-fuel vehicle, and they didn't even know what a flex-fuel vehicle was," he says. "That shows you how much market is out there already with FFVs and the need to educate people that are driving cars right now that could be running on alternative fuel."

"There is no easy solution for our addiction to petroleum, the state of our environment or health problems caused by greenhouse gas emissions," Al Ebron, NAFTC executive director, says. "But when we use alternative vehicles powered by fuels such as ethanol, it is a step in the right direction."