Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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NU rolls out ‘dual fuel’ cars friendlier to air

Northwestern has started trading in its motor fleet for some earth-friendly wheels.

The university has purchased eight “dual fuel” vehicles that run on a corn-based fuel called E85, which is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. These new Ford Taurus V6 models also run on gasoline when the alternative fuel is unavailable.

NU purchased the cars in January to meet a state requirement and received the permits to begin using them about two weeks ago.

Now a green leaf will join the university seal on the vehicles’ sides, indicating NU’s compliance with Green Fleet standards.

Illinois’ Clean Fuel Fleet Program requires metropolitan businesses with more than 10 vehicles parked in one garage to switch to alternative fuels, helping cities such as Chicago meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s clean-air standards. E85 reduces air pollution by decreasing toxic emissions.

On Thursday the U.S. Senate passed an energy bill seeking to reduce the country’s dependency on foreign oil and triple the production of E85. The bill calls for increasing corn-based ethanol production from 1.7 billion gallons in 2001 to 5 billion gallons a year by 2012.

NU sociology Prof. Allan Schnaiberg said pumping up ethanol production will do little to reduce the nation’s foreign oil usage.

“It’s a drop in the bucket,” Schnaiberg said. “It’s more symbolic than actual.”

The bill could have greater impact by putting pressure on organizations to consume more ethanol, he said.

“If it flaunts any efforts of conservation, then it can be an empirical victory for (conservationists),” said Schnaiberg, who teaches courses in environmental sociology.

Car manufacturers expect to roll out more than 2 million E85 vehicles by the end of 2002.

The state provides rebates of up to $4,000 each for the cost of converting vehicles to operate on alternative fuel or purchasing a dual fuel vehicle.

“When we do purchase an alternative fuel vehicle, we apply for rebate moneys that help compensate the difference between the cost of the alternative fuel vehicle and one that runs on gas,” said Brian Peters, NU’s director of university services.

Drivers can fill their tanks with E85 at 18 locations in Illinois, including sites in Evanston and Chicago. NU employees pump E85 into the vehicles at Clark Station, 2431 Dempster St., where the fuel costs about $1.49 per gallon compared to unleaded gasoline at $1.55 per gallon.

E85 goes for as little as 99 cents per gallon in Denver. There are 150 filling stations around the country.

“The people that are really coming out ahead are people pumping their own (ethanol) because it is tax-supported fuel,” said David Kite, NU’s motor pool supervisor.

NU also plans to purchase natural gas-powered vans, Peters said. Natural gas vehicles get better mileage because they run on electricity at low speeds and gasoline at high speeds.

Since E85 vehicles get 5 percent to 10 percent less mileage than normal cars, NU will use its cars around the Evanston Campus rather than on long road trips.

Peters said using alternative fuels such as ethanol and natural gas will benefit the economy and the environment. Because E85 is cleaner for car engines, vehicles will last longer and save NU money spent on maintenance repairs, Peters said.

While the fuel reduces some sulfur and nitrogen compounds that cause pollution, Schnaiberg said E85 doesn’t solve any of the global warming issues because the fuel also releases carbon dioxide.

But the E85 engines could help the Midwest economy, Schnaiberg said, because they will increase the demand for corn, one of the region’s bumper crops.

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
NU rolls out ‘dual fuel’ cars friendlier to air