First ethanol 85 pump in East Tennessee unveiled at Pilot

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - When Jerry Askew went to buy a new SUV last fall, he made sure it was compatible with ethanol 85 and regular gasoline.

The only problem was no gas station in the area sold the environment-friendly fuel.

That was until Wednesday morning, when he pulled up to a newly unveiled pump at a Pilot gas station. Pilot Corp. officials hope to add more at other locations in the future, but so far it is the only E85 pump available to the public in East Tennessee.

"I'm really grateful. Anything that is good for the environment, that reduces our dependence on foreign oil and, you'll notice, is the cheapest gas here has got to be a good deal for our community," Askew, a hospital executive, said after paying $42.95 for 16.5 gallons of E85 in his 2007 GMC Yukon.

E85 is a blend of 85 percent ethanol, also called ethyl alcohol, a fuel made from corn and other crops and 15 percent gasoline.

Cars and trucks capable of using E85 are known as "flex-fuel" vehicles and often have a special sticker and include mainly General Motors and Ford models.

About 6 million FFVs have been produced since the mid-1990s. Other vehicles filling up Wednesday included a Ford F-150, Ford Taurus, Chevrolet Silverado and Chrysler Sebring.

Askew and other drivers of FFVs will have to get out a map to see where they can fill up with E85 when traveling.

In Tennessee, there are only a handful of public-serving gas stations with E85, including two Shells in Clarksville, a Citgo in Nashville, and a Sudden Service in Springfield, according to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition.

A larger number are located in South Carolina and in the upper Midwest. Donnie Pardue, of Anderson, S.C., happened upon the Pilot while making a business call at the McDonald's adjoining the station.

He fills up his Taurus regularly with E85 at home. Swarmed by television cameras at the press conference, Pardue filled up his tank and commented that he liked "helping the environment."

The Pilot, now designated as a Tennessee Green Island Biofuel Partner, is located off busy Interstate 40/75 that runs through Knoxville.

The E85 price of $2.59 is at the top of the list on its sign followed by regular unleaded at $2.88. "Installing E85 at Pilot is another milestone, another significant step for our company to help make our country less dependent on foreign oil.

E85 is an important breakthrough for alternative fuel sources. It's American made and because ethyl alcohol comes from crops, it helps U.S. farmers," said Alan Wright, vice president of supply and distribution for Pilot.

Wright said Pilot hopes to always keep the price of E85 below regular unleaded gas. Jonathan Overly, a University of Tennessee researcher and executive director of the East Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition, approached Pilot about offering E85 in the area. He said using E85 will create jobs for farmers and help air quality.

"E85 needs to be a part of the diet of light-duty vehicles in this country," Overly said.

Pilot has been blending 10 percent ethanol into its other gasolines for several years. A plant in nearby Loudon makes the fuel.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)