GM, Governors Team Up on Ethanol Superhighways

In an attempt to raise the availability of ethanol at American gas stations above a paltry 1 percent, General Motors and the National Governors Association said yesterday they will work together to expand the nation’s ethanol infrastructure to make sure there are pumps ready for next-generation biofuels. The announcement came from NGA’s chairman, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, at its centennial meeting. He said, in cryptically nationalistic terms, that the move would “Americanize” our energy sources.

GM’s commitment to expand the ethanol infrastructure dovetails with its existing investments in two next-gen biofuel startups; Coskata and Mascoma. Both of these companies say they are on the cusp of delivering cheap, cellulosic biofuels and will need a strong infrastructure to help deliver their fuel. GM has also committed to making 50 percent of their cars flex-fuel capable by 2012. GM reiterated its belief that “ethanol is the most significant near-term energy alternative to offset the increasing demand for oil” in the press release. The technological investment that ethanol represents for automakers is smaller than how much the switch to electric, or hydrogen vehicles would cost.

Very few details have been released in terms of cost-sharing, total number of new pumps or the time line for the expansion. What we do know is that the states will devise plans to expand the infrastructure and GM will use its expertise to help facilitate those strategies. GM has helped site some 300 E85 pumps — a mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gas — and will use its vehicle registration information to help figure out where flex-fuel customers are to help locate new pumps. But the number of E85 pumps is still tiny; GM estimates that only 1,700 of America’s 170,000 fueling stations have ethanol pumps.