UF finds ethanol source for car fleet

Published: Friday, September 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.


AT A GLANCE: What is ethanol?

  • Ethanol is an alternative fuel that is usually derived from corn and blended with gasoline. Ethanol until recently had largely been produced and used in the Midwest, but now political and business leaders in Florida are promoting the fuel here.

  • The University of Florida started fueling some of its vehicle fleet with ethanol Thursday, as part of efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels on campus.
    UF President Bernie Machen last year ordered the university to give priority to buying hybrid vehicles and "flex-fuel" vehicles that run on gasoline or ethanol. But until now, the university's 45 flex-fuel vehicles didn't have an available source of the corn-based fuel.
    Lewis Oil of Gainesville sold an initial 2,000-gallon batch of 85 percent ethanol to UF and is bidding on an ongoing contract. The company also plans to start selling ethanol to the general public at a Gainesville service station.
    The university's use of ethanol creates a local market for the fuel that might allow others to use it, said Dedee Delongpre, the director of the university's Office of Sustainability
    "It's leading by example," she said The use of ethanol on campus is part of a wider push to reduce the number of vehicles and use of fossil fuels there. Other efforts include the university charging departments a $3,000 fee per car to park vehicles on campus and offering taxi and car-sharing services.
    Ethanol is an alternative fuel that is usually derived from corn and blended with gasoline. Ethanol until recently had largely been produced and used in the Midwest, but now political and business leaders in Florida are promoting the fuel here.
    Just this week, a "Farm to Fuel Summit" was held in Orlando to discuss opportunities for growing crops for fuel in the state and other ways to increase production.
    Gate Petroleum of Jacksonville plans an ethanol plant near White Springs, which would be one of the first in the state and use corn bought from the Midwest.
    Lewis Oil plans to sell ethanol at one of the 15 service stations it owns in Gainesville, said Richard Paznik, the company's plant manager. The company previously didn't see a big demand for ethanol, he said, but hopes UF's use of the fuel will create more interest.
    "It's slowly spreading," he said. The cost of ethanol fluctuates but is generally competitively priced with gasoline, he said, recently selling at $2.94 a gallon. Ethanol has a higher octane rating than straight gasoline but provides lower gas mileage, he said.
    While ethanol is also a cleaner-burning fuel, there are environmental concerns about the expansion of its use.
    The production of corn and transportation of ethanol requires fossil fuels that can offset ethanol's environmental benefits, said Chris Bird, environmental protection director for Alachua County.
    "The jury's still out on whether there's a net benefit," he said.
    UF has a fleet of more than 2,000 vehicles, including 10 hybrids and 45 flex-fuel vehicles, said Jon Priest, motor pool superintendent.
    The university now uses about 30,000 gallons of gasoline and 8,000 gallons of diesel each month, he said.
    The diesel vehicles will soon be running on a fuel blended with 20 percent biodiesel. Gainesville-based Freedom Fuels provided a test batch of the fuel produced from vegetable oil that worked well in vehicles, Priest said.
    The university also is trying to reduce the number of vehicles on campus though financial penalties.
    Starting last month, departments must pay $3,000 per vehicle to park on campus as a way to encourage them to reduce their vehicle fleet, Delongpre said.
    She said the fee will be used to fund taxi and car-sharing services on campus.
    "If we were going to take something away, we wanted to offer a practical alternative," she said.
    The taxi service is being tested this month. Three taxis are available on campus, providing transportation to faculty and staff.
    A car-sharing service also could be offered to students, said Allan Preston, coordinator of the quality office in the physical plant.
    Members of the program would get background and insurance checks, he said, then be able to rent vehicles for $5 an hour.
    Delongpre said those efforts combined with the use of alternative fuels can help the school reduce its total emissions of carbon dioxide.
    She said UF might eventually be able to use ethanol experts on campus to develop ways to use locally grown crops to produce fuels for its fleet on campus.
    "Ideally, we don't want to get an alternative fuel from halfway across the county - that's not sustainable," she said. "But you've got to start somewhere."
    Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 338-3176 or crabben@gvillesun.com.

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