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Fill ’er up with ethanol

Biofuels are at your service downtown.

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Gasoline mixed with ethanol is so common in some large cities that it’s sometimes referred to as “summer blend” — the fuel of choice during the hot months when smog is especially troublesome.

But it hasn’t even been available in Arkansas — until this fall, when Buddy Rawls, a longtime environmental and Democratic activist, opened Go Green Biofuels at 8th and Chester streets downtown.

“It seemed to me the missing link in the energy circle was a connection for the general public to gain access to these products,” Rawls said.

Go Green sells two kinds of fuels: E-10, a blend of 90 percent unleaded gasoline and 10 percent ethanol, and B-20 diesel, which includes 20 percent biodiesel. Rawls said he knows of a couple of other service stations that sell biodiesel, but none that sell the ethanol blend.

Both types of fuel can be used in standard engines, Rawls said.

“My hope, of course, is by making this product available, people will try it, become familiar with it and comfortable with it, and use it as a growing source of fuel,” he said.

The station also offers car repairs and “veggie conversions” — reconfiguring engines to run on used restaurant cooking oil.

While Rawls’ is the first service station to sell a gas/ethanol blend, biodiesel has been around a little while longer. Two biodiesel plants currently operate in Arkansas — Patriot Biofuels in Stuttgart and Eastman in Batesville. Rawls’ own interest was sparked when the Little Rock School District began using biodiesel in its buses during the last school year.

The E-10 and B-20 blends do help the environment by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions — Rawls cited a U.S. Department of Energy study that calculated that use of E-10 reduced emissions by 7.8 million tons in 2005, or the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road.

But Rawls said it’s just as important that biofuels mean less dependence on foreign oil. Ethanol is made from corn, and the biocomponent in biodiesel can be made from animal fat, vegetable oil or even used restaurant grease. Making ethanol does require the use of petroleum products, but there is a net increase in energy potential.

“The fact that 10 percent of one product and 20 percent of the other is a product that we control domestically is biofuels’ most valuable asset,” Rawls said. “The world petroleum market is pretty volatile. There’s greater stability in supply and pricing, to some extent, in biofuels.”

Speaking of price, Rawls’ price for E-10 is comparable to what other downtown gas stations charge for gasoline. Biodiesel’s cost also tends to be stable, so the price of gasoline on any given day determines whether it’s a good buy or not.

As for fuel efficiency, there is a minimal loss of miles per gallon — about 1.5 percent — for E-10 over pure gasoline. Go up to a higher-percentage blend, though — such as E-85, which is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline — and the fuel-efficiency loss is significant, Rawls said.

“It’s likely that the higher content of alcohol equals lower overall energy potential,” he said.

Ethanol has its detractors too. Some argue that it amounts to nothing more than a subsidy for corn farmers, because so much petroleum is needed to produce the ethanol.

Rawls has degrees in economics and business from Hendrix, and master’s degree in counseling from Arkansas State University. His primary career has been in the mental health field, with a four-year hiatus when he worked for then-Gov. Ann Richards in Texas. He now works as a psychological examiner in addition to running GoGreen.

“I’ve always been very interested in environmental issues, and concerned about matters of stewardship,” he said. “I’ve been looking for ways in which I could make some kind of contribution.”

Rawls said he knows many people in Central Arkansas won’t be interested in what he’s selling.

“I’m playing to a particular audience,” he said. “Not everybody will have the interest or concern. But I hope there’s a large enough group of people committed to the values biofuels represent to make this operation viable.”

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