Mary Beth Stanek, GM’s director for Environment and Energy, has been making the midwest rounds recently talking about ethanol and the auto industry. This week she was in Des Moines at a biofuels forum sponsored by Successful Farming magazine.
Last month she hit the Jackpot – Jackpot Junction, that is – in Morton, Minnesota where she attended the Minnesota Ag Expo. She is pictured here at that event with Kelly Marczak of the American Lung Association of Upper Midwest and Rich Gunther, also with GM.
After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to connect for a telephone interview, I finally emailed a few questions to Ms. Stanek and got her responses.
DF: GM and the other main car manufacturers have already pledged to make at least half of your cars flex fuel by the year 2012. How will the emphasis on revving up production of ethanol even more impact that goal – any chance that might increase?
MBS: Ethanol production is increasing and so is flex fuel vehicle production. These combined activities are sending positive signals to the biofuel and other supporting industries. The hope is to support current biofuel production and to spur commercialization of gen 2 ethanol from biomass. Grain-based ethanol producers such as Abengoa are moving into biomass ethanol. We are also continuing with our VeraSun partnership and they are developing remarkable efficiencies and fuel alternatives
DF: There has been talk that another way to displace more foreign oil would be to increase the manufacturers’ recommendations for the amount of ethanol that can be used in non-flex fuel vehicles to perhaps 15 or 20 percent from the current 10. What are the chances that might happen, assuming it could also be approved by the EPA?
MBS: Much more e20 study is required. As you know, there are over 240 million vehicles on the road and many are over five years old. We do not want to prematurely retire vehicles due to unforseen vehicle performance and fuel issues. Emission certification is key to higher blends initiatives.
DF: Tell us about the potential at this point for plug-ins like the Chevy Volt or hybrids that can run on a number of different fuel types.
MBS: The Volt plug in concept that debuted at the Detroit Auto show has the ability to have battery charge extended through the use of recharging. Ethanol and biodiesel will be compatible, adding greater distance ranges between grid charges
DF: What about biodiesel? What is GM doing in that realm?
MBS: GM is very active in the bio diesel segment. Our vehicles are certified for B5 and we are involved in ASTM specification development for higher blends. A robust spec is needed with retail adherence to spec in order to grow the consumer market.