Valero Stations: Dark Cloud With a Silver Lining?
By the end of 2005, the ethanol industry produced more than 4 billion gallons of the sulphur (Atomic Number 16) neutral automotive grade fuel. This figure doesn't include the millions of gallons of beer waste that breweries dumped into sewers, instead of being reclaimed into automotive grade ethanol. Without prior knowledge of Valero Energy Corporation's Diamond Shamrock stations in Colorado dispensing E85 made with reclaimed Coors beer, the following news could be considered bad.

At a rate much faster than Valero station locations are posted on Valero's website station locator, Valero gas stations are popping up everywhere in Southern California. As North America's largest oil refiner, it would be great to see Valero get involved in California's E85 effort.

We left an inquiry with Valero Energy Corporation to see if it has any plans of introducing E85 to its California locations. With California ethanol producer Golden Cheese, and potentially Miller Brewing, and Anheiser-Busch (Budweiser) reclaiming beer waste at their California breweries, the idea doesn't sound all that impossible.

Maybe California could divert a few bucks from its Hydrogen Highway's 6.5 million dollar 2006 budget to contribute to the Barley & Hopps Highway.

Late-Breaking Leg-Wetting E85 News-Sort Of
As this goes to press, we haven't heard back from Valero, but here's some interesting news from General Motors:

"General Motors will help lead a joint demonstration project along with the state of California, Chevron Technology Ventures, and Pacific Ethanol to learn more about consumer awareness and acceptance of E85 as a motor vehicle fuel by demonstrating its use in GM's flexible-fuel vehicles. The announcement was made as a result of a non-binding understanding made public at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

GM intends to offer between 50 to 100 of its E85-capable Chevrolet Impala passenger cars and Silverado pickup trucks for consideration in the state's annual competitive bid process. Flexible-fuel vehicles will be used by the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) at various operations in Northern California and the state's Central Valley. Chevron Technology Ventures intends to work with CalTrans to provide E85 fuel and install the necessary refueling pumps in these locations. Pacific Ethanol, a California-based ethanol production and marketing company, intends to provide the ethanol to Chevron Technology Ventures for the project."

Electric-Vehicle Idiocy in L.A.
It's true California's year-round sun is great, and the state has the world's largest population of interesting vehicles, but for automotive enthusiasts living in the state, it is kind of like being a permanent member in the cast of a poorly written episode of the X-Files.

At the turn of the 21st Century, the big push in California was for total-loss electric cars. It seemed like night after night on every TV channel there were smile-faced newscasters telling the good folks of the Golden State all about the dawning age of zero-polluting electric cars. To relieve potential electric car owners' concerns about where they might recharge the zero-emitting vehicles, on the spot coverage provided answers. On location from one of California's recharge stations, TV viewers got to learn firsthand how to plug in a battery charger at a conveniently located free recharge station coming to their local neighborhood.

Admittedly, as a rule, gearheads aren't the most intellectual group of people, but nevertheless, the concept of plugging a car into the nation's grid didn't add up to being pollution free. There was a standard joke making the rounds about some guy in L.A. driving around in his electric car while people upstream in Utah were breathing the pollution generated by his electric car. None of us knew at the time, but there was a dark reality attached to such humor. Later, we discovered the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) was listed as a major investor of the Intermountain powerplant in Delta, Utah. This financial arrangement guarantees 75 percent of the coal-fired plant's electricity makes its way into California.

While mainstream mass media was enamored at the time with total loss EVs, the automotive enthusiast press was anxiously awaiting the appearance of self-sufficient hybrids. The general consensus was hybrids would make their debut in pickup trucks with more battery storage capacity, and then work their way into automobiles as battery technology improved. In 2006, with seemingly more EV recharge stations in California than EVs, it looks like hybrids have taken over.

We hope with the evolution of improved solar cells, regenerative charging systems, along with other technological advancements, EVs can re-enter the picture. Perhaps the feasibility of the next generation EVs will be good enough for automobile manufacturers to sell them to the public instead of offering leases.

In 2006, the beauty of hybrids is they can be privately owned, which we think this is a good indication manufacturers are confident in their projected reliability and future.