California E85 demo attracts big players

By | March 01, 2006
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California, a state well known for its stringent emissions regulations and specialty fuels, is about to get a lesson in E85. California only has one publicly accessible E85 pump now, but the state transportation department (CalTrans), Pacific Ethanol Inc., General Motors Corp. and Chevron Venture Technologies will soon change that through an E85 demonstration project to take place in the Golden State.
The goals of the project are not only for the parties involved to gain a better understanding of the fuel and its infrastructure requirements, but also to gauge public awareness of—and receptivity to—the domestically grown fuel. Through this partnership, two or three E85 demonstration facilities in northern and central California will be established to "prove out" various aspects called into consideration when looking at demonstrating the blending, transporting, storing, using and marketing of a new fuel in what could potentially be one of its largest markets in the world.

Chevron is blending and distributing the E85, as well as providing the necessary dispensing and storage equipment, said Dewey McLemore, Chevron's project manager for the E85 project. "Because this is a demonstration program and not a commercial venture, the fueling stations will be set up at two to three CalTrans transportation equipment yards," he said. "The actual locations [in central and/or northern California] are yet to be determined … ." With centrally located Pacific Ethanol as one of the demonstration partners, nearby CalTrans divisions suitable for housing demonstration-scale E85 storage and dispensing facilities are good candidates for where these E85 refueling centers might show up.

Pacific Ethanol will be supplying Chevron its ethanol to blend with commercial gasoline, according to McLemore. Pacific Ethanol's production facility is currently under construction in Madera, Calif., and is expected to be operational by this fall.

According to General Motors spokesman Dave Barthmouss, General Motors will make available between 50 and 100 E85-capable vehicles—Chevrolet Impalas and Chevrolet Silverado pickup trucks—to CalTrans through a competitive bid process. "We have a long history with the state of California and the state's transportation department with our fuel cell partnership and the hydrogen highway," Barthmouss told EPM. "It was just natural for us to want to work with California on this E85 project."
Both Chevron and General Motors consider ethanol and E85 as important parts of their overall "blueprint"—a term Barthmouss used—for energy diversification.

"Chevron is committed to exploring various energy resources and making best use of all forms of energy," McLemore told EPM. "[Chevron] engages in [these types of] programs to demonstrate and validate safe, practical technologies in real-world settings."

General Motors is also eager to explore the possibilities of ethanol. "Ethanol's not the silver bullet, but General Motors sees it as an extremely important element needed to cut down on fossil fuel use, imported oil and emissions," Barthmouss said. "Ultimately, we're looking at all kinds of technologies in combination with hybrids and hydrogen technologies."

-Staff Report