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USDA to Help Expand Ethanol Fueling Options

A week after President Obama lent his support to natural gas vehicles, the administration made clear it was not playing favorites in the transportation sector. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Friday announced a new federal program to expand flexible vehicle fuel pumps for ethanol.

Repeating the goal of cutting foreign oil imports by one-third in the next 15 years, Vilsack said his department is committed to research to develop more economical sources of biofuels and expand the infrastructure. The flexible fuel infrastructure currently includes only 2,350 of the nation's 167,000 gasoline and diesel fueling stations. The federal agency is seeking to add at least 10,000 stations with the flex-fuel pump capability in the next five years.

The new USDA program is supposed to make it easier for fueling station owners to finance the installation of flex-fuel pumps, which average about $120,000 for a typical pumping and storage installation, Vilsack said. "We believe this will help more Americans use E-85 fuel (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline) and other variations of ethanol in their gas tanks," he said.

USDA funding will be available for more flexible-fuel pumps, or blender pumps, and the federal agency has clarified a rule to include the pumps under renewable energy system definitions in the Rural Energy for America Program. The clarification allows the USDA to make loans and grants.

Currently, 8-8.5 million vehicles in the nation use E85 ethanol-based fuel, representing less than 3.5% of the 250 million vehicles on U.S. roads.

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