ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
Demand for sorghum grain from Kansas probably will continue to increase rapidly in part because of the rapid growth of its use for ethanol fuel production.
Ethanol alcohol is combined with gasoline for two automobile fuels, E-10 (10 percent alcohol) and E-85 (85 percent alcohol.)
With the completion of the Campus ethanol plant east of Oakley, demand for grain for ethanol production has climbed to 48 million bushels annually compared to to 35 million bushels last year.
Robert White, director of the value-added program for the Kansas Sorghum Grain Producers and Kansas Corn Growers Association, who share headquarters in Garnett, said the grain mix for alcohol in Kansas runs 70 to 75 percent milo with the rest corn.
White expects production to keep growing with completion of an ethanol plant at Garnett and more plants contemplated with the upward spiral of fuel prices.
Added production and use are partly slowed as the industry awaits expected legislative action on ethanol supports that will also ease required paperwork, he said.
Grain use in ethanol plants varies with whether corn or milo is predominant in the area, White said. Corn use increases to where it nearly is the only grain used in plants to the north and west of Kansas while sorghum grain also predominates in Texas and Oklahoma.
New stations that sell E-85 have gone in along the I-70 corridor, making it possible to buy the new fuel the length of Kansas, he said.
An earlier issue of the Free Press listed vehicles that have oxygen sensors to be able to burn E-85. Any gasoline-burning car or truck can use E-10.
Will the new electric hybrid cars burn E-85 for its combustible fuel need, therefore bringing gasoline demand down more? White said his associations are talking to Toyota and Honda about doing that.
A more immediate prospect, he said, is for E-85 use with the new Chevrolet Malibu hybrid, sedan or wagon, which was announced for production last week at the General Motors Fairfax plant in Kansas City.
Talks with GM on the subject “have been proactive since 2002,” White said.
Why isn’t ethanol being used more to drive down fuel prices at the pump? White said the alcohol has the potential to be used more that way as supply and use spreads. But there is a philosophy at filling stations that inhibits using alcohol as a price buster.
White said stations are accustomed to offering multi-grade fuels with jumps in prices for higher octane ratings of as much as 5 to 10 cents a gallon.
Ethanol increases octane rating. In the eyes of fuel suppliers, he said, E-10 at a penny or two a gallon higher already is a bargain. When it’s offered at the same price or a penny lower than gasoline, it is perceived as even more of a bargain.
There is an inborn resistance to not having ethanol follow the price of other fuels, he said. For most gasoline stations, including E-85 among fuel offerings also will necessitate more storage tanks on hand, a big additional investment.