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If demand increases, E85 station may come to this area

There is no E85 fueling station in the Rogue Valley for flex-fuel vehicles. Do you know why?

— Russell C., via email

The simple answer, Russell, is that nobody's built one yet. There's no government mandate about the availability of E85 fueling stations, which means it's up to private enterprise, same as any other standard gas station you see along the road.

E85 is short for ethanol-85, a fuel blend of 15 percent gasoline, 85 percent ethanol. Due to strong promotion by federal and state governments, the availability of ethanol fuel has increased dramatically over the past few years. In March of 2012, more than 2,900 stations nationwide were selling E85.

Supporters of E85 say it and other ethanol fuel blends have numerous benefits over standard gasoline.

For starters, ethanol is typically produced from renewable resources, mainly corn, which reduces dependency on petroleum, which is nonrenewable and (for the most part) foreign. Ethanol also has a higher average octane rating than normal gasoline, which means less wear and tear on engines designed to handle the different chemical composition.

Ethanol has its drawbacks, though. Because ethanol has less energy content than normal gasoline, cars suffer anywhere from 10 to 30 percent reduced fuel economy.

This means that while ethanol blends are usually cheaper than gasoline by the gallon, by the mile they may end up costing more.

Ethanol also takes a significant amount of raw material to make, and drives up world food prices due to the corn used in its production.

Critics point out that ethanol fuel blends do not significantly reduce carbon emissions, due to the petroleum involved in harvesting crops and refining the fuel to make it usable.

A number of state and federal initiatives have been designed to bolster ethanol production and consumption. Oregon has several incentive programs for individuals who want to open an ethanol-related business, most involving tax credits and low-interest loans. See www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/ for list of incentive programs in Oregon.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.