Ethanol's on the way, but it will take awhile to get here and won't help Floridians cut their gasoline consumption substantially for years.
The presence of ethanol-fueled vehicles at a NASCAR race is just one of the more visible indicators of how the corn-based fuel, which debuted as a gasoline extender during the gas shortages of the 1970s, is moving front and center on Florida's economic stage as the nation attempts to trim its consumption of foreign oil. Another: Gov. Jeb Bush's 2006 legislative proposals, which include funding for research and demonstration projects and tax incentives associated with alternative fuels, including ethanol.
But while awareness of ethanol may be growing in Florida, there's hardly any of the stuff itself here yet. Most cars sold in Florida aren't set up to burn the E85 blend. There are only two E85 pumping stations in Florida -- one at Hurlburt Field near Fort Walton Beach and the other at Kennedy Space Center -- and both are closed to the public. The closest E85 public retailer is at the Dixie Road Shoppette in Fort Benning, Ga.
The story's the same for the weaker ethanol mixture that most cars can use -- a 10% blend of ethanol known as E10. There are no publicly operated E10 pumps in Florida.
For both economic and logistical reasons, ethanol must be manufactured near where it's used in order for it to be viable. It can't be piped in like petroleum products because of its tendency to absorb water. Instead, it must be shipped in by rail or truck and "splash-blended," or mixed, at terminal stations, as it is loaded into tanker trucks. With the nearest ethanol manufacturing facilities in Kentucky, ethanol is simply too expensive an option for Florida gas retailers.
How soon ethanol is manufactured in Florida involves the fortunes of Bradley Krohn, a former scientist with Missouri-based Monsanto Co. who worked on creating hybrid types of corn that produce greater yields of ethanol. In 2004, Krohn and a fellow Monsanto veteran named Mike Kinley launched Tampa-based U.S. EnviroFuels LLC. The company has just received a state construction permit for an $80-million ethanol-production plant at the Port of Tampa. It is planning another facility at Port Manatee near Bradenton. Krohn has already negotiated a feedstock contract -- the price it will pay for corn -- and completed its marketing agreements. It is now lining up financing.