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Fill 'er up -- with ethanol

As American motorists continue to pay the high price for the highlife at the pumps, few realize that the solution to our gas price problem is growing in our backyard. Today as you tank up, the price hovers around $2.50 per gallon. But did you know that it would only cost $1.75 a gallon to fill up on E85 "ethanol fuel"?

In February the United States imported more than 409 million barrels of foreign oil. What you probably don't realize is that most of the oil is brought by to you by none other than a spirited mix of rogue states, countries governed by corrupt officials, and even from a country that is conducting a nuclear development program against the United Nations' will.

All of this costly treachery could be avoided if the U.S. focused on the homegrown solution. The key to fixing our petroleum price pinch is to curb dependency on it and replace it with E85. E85 is a biofuel blend consisting of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent petroleum. Unlike fossil fuels, ethanol is a fuel that can be grown and refined here in the U.S. Not only would a switch from gasoline to E85 be doing your pocketbook a favor but the environment as well. When powered by E85, an engine emits only a fraction of the greenhouse gases that it would using fossil fuels. Lastly, by switching to biofuels we would be giving our domestic agriculture industry the business we now conduct in the Mideast and other regions that we are so desperately dependent on for oil.

The process of making ethanol yields almost no waste from start to finish. Here's how it is made: Harvested corn is taken to an ethanol refinery, ground up and cooked. The starch from the corn is then mixed with water forming a "mash." Sugar created from the mash is fermented and produces both ethanol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is removed and is sold to the soft drink industry to make carbonated beverages. The ethanol continues fermenting and is used to make fuel-grade ethanol. Not even the grain residue goes to waste -- the leftover residue is either used as fuel to cook the corn or can be converted to animal feed.

It is important to bear in mind that E85 is not what you would call an experiment any more. It has been widely used in Brazil since the fuel crisis of the 1980s. In Brazil nearly 75 percent of all cars run on what is called a "flex engine." What makes the flex engine unique is that it can run on both fossil and biofuels simultaneously. So when you tank up a flex car, your only concern is selecting the cheapest fuel. According to a CNN report, Brazil is expected to declare its energy independence sometime next year because they no longer must import fossil fuels to power their booming economy.

Today, less than 1 percent of U.S. gas stations offer E85 at the pumps. But there is hope in the future for this to change with the release of GM's new line of stateside-bound "green cars." GM plans to release a limited number of "green cars" into the US market later this year. Based upon the initial success of this bold venture, GM will determine future mass market potential of these cars.

The United States has the technology, agricultural knowledge, and farmland to make this possibility a reality. If we as a society push this homegrown solution hard enough, then as a nation 10 years from now, we, too, like Brazil might be able to can claim energy independence.

Brian Michel is a junior at Wilson.

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