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July 15, 2004
Environment-Friendly Ethanol Debuts at Berkeley Lab
First Dispensing Station in Northern California

BERKELEY, CA — With the addition of a 4,000-gallon fuel tank in the motor pool, the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has become the first ethanol dispensing station in Northern California. This cleaner-burning, high-octane, environmentally friendly alternative to gasoline will soon power 60 vehicles in the Laboratory's onsite pool, the largest ethanol-powered fleet in the state.

Don Prestella, Berkeley Lab fleet operations supervisor, fills a lab vehicle tank with E-85.

"By the end of this year, our flex-fuel fleet — those that are capable of using unleaded fuel and/or ethanol-85 — will grow to about 75," said Don Prestella, Berkeley Lab's fleet manager. "It is our goal to run all of them exclusively on ethanol." The total Lab fleet numbers around 250 vehicles.

"E-85" is a blend of 85 percent ethanol, a renewable biofuel called ethyl alcohol made from grain like corn, and 15 percent gasoline. Converting grain to ethanol helps offset carbon emissions from fossil fuels, and vehicles that use it produce 25 percent less carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.

Berkeley Lab has become one of over 300 public and private E-85 fueling facilities in more than 20 states. The transition means that the Laboratory meets its alternative-fuel target for reduced air emissions, established in 1999 by executive order for all federal facilities.

The trend toward such alternatives is growing. Just over five million acres of corn are currently used to produce ethanol each year, and experts see that doubling in the next few years. More than three million flexible-fuel cars are on the roads today. "Within the next five years, it (ethanol) will be everywhere," Prestella predicts.

Ethanol is the most widely used alternative fuel. Berkeley Lab gets its supply from a producer in Idaho.

The Renewable Fuels Association notes that ethanol contains 35 percent oxygen, and adding oxygen to fuel results in more complete fuel combustion, thus reducing tailpipe emissions. Ethanol also displaces the use of toxic gasoline components such as benzene, and it is nontoxic, water soluble, and biodegradable. It reduces greenhouse-gas emissions (compared to conventional gasoline) by 12 to 19 percent, tailpipe carbon monoxide by up to 30 percent, and exhaust VOC (volatile organic carbon) emissions by 12 percent.

Much of the Laboratory's vehicle conversion was made possible by an $83,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. A new vapor-recovery system on the ethanol storage tank — the first in California — has been approved for three-year testing by the California Air Resources Board.

The Lab also uses biodiesel in all of its diesel vehicles, including buses.

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