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Is Ethanol Better Than Gasoline?

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E-85 price now lower than regular gasoline (Credit: CBS)

E-85 price now lower than regular gasoline (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Crude oil prices are down, and that should be good news for drivers. But the problem is, many drivers aren’t seeing prices at the gas pump fall that much.

Oil Expert Phil Flynn of PFGBEST.com says prices do seem to skyrocket when they’re on the upswing, but trickle down at a snail’s pace. He says it’s partly because gas station owners are trying to make up for what they lost in recent weeks. When gas prices were high, they couldn’t profit as much because they had to compete for business.

As CBS 2’s Pamela Jones reports, the cost of filling up is leading some drivers to look for alternatives. People we talked to at the pump say they’ve had their fill of hearing about gas prices coming down.

“I don’t think they’re coming down,” said driver Dion Jackson, “No. Not at all.”

Prices seemed to shoot up recently to $4.82 and higher in some places. It took two weeks for that price to drop 3 cents to $4.79 today.

“I guess when they do come down that’s why I haven’t noticed it. Maybe 5 or ten cents, but when they go up they do go up really fast,” said another driver.

But you could be filling up for $3.45 a gallon – if you had a car that burns E-85 or ethanol. Right now, it’s much cheaper than regular gas.

“It’s a very clean fuel. Very efficient,” said ethanol producer Keith Gibson.

He manages Iroquois Bio-Energy Company in Rensselaer, Indiana. They take animal feed corn, grind it into corn meal, ferment it and turn it into ethanol. An energy source good enough for the Indy Racing League.

“The cars still run fine. They run fast,” said Gibson.

Gibson hopes high gas prices will encourage sales of cars that can run on E-85; and increase demand for the fuel. But some environmentalists say you just can’t drive as far on a gallon of E-85.

“E-85 is not as fuel efficient as gasoline,” said Max Muller of Environment Illinois, “So, the price difference – really, even with gas prices high right now is kind of a wash.

“It burns a little different,” counters Gibson,”The ethanol has a very high octane number. So it’s a very hot burning fuel.”

Gibson also notes that E-85 burns cleaner, leading to fewer emissions. But environmentalists say it really creates more global warming because of all the fossil fuel burned in harvesting and transporting the corn.

“It’s used to transport it to market. It’s used for the fertilizers and the pesticides that are used to grow the corn,” said Muller.

Muller adds that right now, there’s a government subsidy applied to E-85. And, he says, if that subsidy runs out, so does the lower price for E-85.

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