On weekday mornings, Leona Cotton, a cashier at the Tiger Conoco station on I-70 Drive Southwest, would watch U.S. mail trucks line up at the pumps for E85, a special fuel made from corn and soybeans.
But the lines vanished Thursday, Cotton said, when a competitor, the Providence Road Break Time, became the second Columbia gas station to offer the alternative fuel, which powers about one in three of the Columbia’s U.S. Postal Service’s fleet of delivery trucks.
“Now, they’re going over there,” said Cotton. “And they took a lot of our business away.”
The Market for E85 fuel
Ken Caspall, senior vice president of sales for MFA Oil, which owns the Break Time convenience store chain, said the Providence Road location was chosen as the company’s first local seller of E85 because of its proximity to the post office. Caspall said MFA Oil anticipates that the market for E85 will continue to grow.
“E85 is the next step in making home-grown fuels available to Missouri drivers and farmers,” Caspall said at a press conference Thursday at the Providence Road Break Time.
What is E85?
E85 is a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. For now, Columbia’s 101-truck postal fleet accounts for the majority of local sales of E85, which, according to the Missouri Corn Growers Association, is currently used in just 3 million vehicles nationwide. Only a handful of domestic and foreign car models built after 1998 are equipped to burn E85 in their engines.
Steve Saltzman, Columbia’s postmaster, said the post office began converting its fleet to E85 two years ago because it’s a cleaner burning fuel.
“The only thing bad about it is you don’t get nearly as good gas mileage,” said. “But it burns a lot cleaner.”
MFA Oil’s decision to start selling high-octane E85 on Providence Road two blocks west of the post office makes it more convenient for postal workers to fill up their tanks, Saltzman said. However, he added, mail carriers with routes outside city limits will continue to use the Conoco station as well.
E85 fuel and the Senate's energy bill debate
The sale of E85 at the Providence Road Break Time began as the U.S. Senate debates an energy bill that would require some fuel manufacturers to increase production of ethanol and biodiesel, both of which are made from Midwest corn and soybean crops.
Caspall and others say E85 could help relieve U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Two farmer-owned ethanol plants are currently operated in Macon and Craig, said Gary Marshall, CEO of the Missouri Farm Growers Association. Marshall said he anticipates a new ethanol plant soon being built near Mexico.
Ronald McNeall, who started farming in 1966 and now runs a 1,400-acre corn and soybean farm in Keytesville, said MFA Oil’s decision expands the market for local corn growers.
“I grew up on a farm. That’s my lifestyle,” he said. “I’m a farming addict. And this is an opportunity to get a leg up.”
The price of E85 at the Break Time on Thursday morning was $1.459 per gallon, about 10 cents more than both regular unleaded and E10, which is 10 percent ethanol. Although MFA Oil does not plan additional E85 pumps for Columbia, Caspall said, it does plan to begin selling the fuel at two Petro-Card stations in Macon and Rolla soon.
For more about E-85 fuel, go to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition’s Web site at www.e85fuel.com.