July 1999


Lab rolls out ethanol-burning, alternate-fuel fleet

Michael Fielden (left), Kaye Johnson and John Klemski fill up one of ORNL’s new ethanol-burning cars.
Most of a fleet of alternate-fuel vehicles is now on the road at ORNL. These automobiles burn a mixture of gasoline and alcohol, which in itself isn’t unusual except that the fuel is mostly alcohol instead of mostly gasoline.

“These vehicles burn E-85, which means the fuel they burn is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline,” says Michael Fielden of ORNL’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office. “These new vehicles begin the conversion of our fleet under a presidential order for all federal facilities to develop alternate fuel fleets.”

The “green fleet” is part of a large DOE effort to find ways for the United States to reduce its dependence on imported oil. One strategy is to replace petroleum products with home-grown ethanol, which is derived from corn.

Arrangements for purchasing the vehicles and establishing the local fueling station were a team effort. Kaye Johnson, who worked in EERE’s Transportation Technologies program before moving to direct the American Museum of Science and Energy program, worked with John Klemski, the Plant and Equipment Division’s fleet manager, and ORO’s purchasing department to obtain the vehicles. Fielden arranged for the purchase of E-85 and the conversion of an existing fuel tank to be compatible with the E-85 fuel.

The ethanol fuel for the vehicles—cars, vans and pickups—is being provided by the A.E. Staley Company in nearby Loudon.

Staley is mixing the fuel and delivering it to ORNL’s 500-gallon ethanol tank. ORNL is planning to replace it with a 10,000-gallon tank, Fielden said.

Klemski says the “green fleet” E-85 vehicles can be denoted because they are truly green, in various shades, including a striking “jalapeño green” applied to several pickup trucks. “This should help folks recall that they are part of a special fleet that uses the special fuel,” he said.

The vehicles have been distributed to Lab organizations much like any fleet vehicle, and the new owners have been apprised that they should use the E-85 fuel, Klemski says. However, the vehicles can run on regular gasoline. Conversely, a conventional gasoline-burning vehicle cannot run on the mostly ethanol E-85 mixture.

Fielden says the E-85 cars “drive smooth and accelerate well.” The miles per gallon, however, will be about 20 percent less with E-85 compared with vehicles that burn gasoline.

Staley officials told Fielden that the Loudon plant produces 42 million gallons of ethanol per year for major oil company refineries, which usually mix it with gasoline at 10 to 20 percent ethanol for retail sales.“We are the first Staley customer to want 85 percent ethanol,” Fielden says, adding that other import-dependent nations have used ethanol fuels for a number of years. “In this case, for safety reasons, gasoline is used as an additive so that it will burn with a visible flame.”

ORNL currently has 16 of the planned 18 ethanol burners.—B.C.