Christopher Lapp, the first person to drive cross-country fueled by ethanol, said he and his 48-year-old Cadillac are proof that alternative fuels work. “To be able to do it with a classical car and new fuel, I thought it was interesting and unique,” said Mr. Lapp, who is a nuclear and environmental consultant.
Mr. Lapp drove 7,000 miles using ethanol, an alternative fuel made by fermenting and distilling grain, sugar and corn. The Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible—a classic automobile that he converted to run primarily on ethanol—ran smoothly and saved money.
“Overall, it would have probably been more expensive to drive cross-country on gasoline rather than ethanol,” he said. He started the trip on Memorial Day.
“The price per gallon varied across the country, the cheapest being $1.59 in the Midwest and $2.40 at the Navy Annex Citgo in the District,” he said.
Mr. Lapp said one of the reasons he wanted to make the coast-to-coast journey was because he is “interested in a diverse mix of energy sources for America’s future”. In May 2005, the Senate passed legislation that would require all refineries use renewable components in gasoline, most of it ethanol, annually by 2012. The bill would double ethanol use in the United States to 8 billion gallons a year.
Officials at the American Coalition for Ethanol said that by increasing the amount of ethanol used in gasoline, the need for crude oil would drop by 2 billion barrels annually. “Ethanol is a cleaner burning fuel, every gallon of ethanol you use displaces seven-tenths of a gallon of petroleum. Using ethanol is almost like removing 1 million cars from the road,” said Brian Jennings, Executive Vice President of the American Coalition for Ethanol. Mr. Lapp doesn’t want to remove cars from the road, in fact, he does want to add them. He is hoping that by making the 6,000 mile round trip he will be able to bring attention to ethanol as an alternative source of fuel. “I want to show people that ethanol can be part of the equation in solving the fuel issue. It’s a bridge between natural gas and petroleum,” he said.
He mapped out his route to correspond with his fuel consumption, plotting stops at the handful of ethanol stations that dot the countryside. ” Morgantown ( W.Va.) was the first stop then from there I had to make it to Lexington, Kentucky.,” Mr. Lapp said. He said his biggest challenge was making it from Colorado to California because of the lack of stations in that region of the country. “Once you leave Colorado, there are only five stations until California. A lot of them you need special permission to use because they aren’t open to the public. I thought I could make it. I’ve got a pretty big tank, but it was a bit of a stretch,” he said.
A flexible-fuel car is specifically designed to run on any ethanol fuel blend up to E-85, where 85 percent of the fuel is ethanol and the remaining 15 percent is gas. A special board diagnostic unit reads the fuel blend and adjusts the car’s injection and ignition timing to compensate for the different fuel mixtures.
Unlike the newer models where everything is done automatically, Mr. Lapp has to manually switch his Cadillac over to regular gas or ethanol, but he considers it a small price to pay to get the word out.
“There are a lot of alternative energy ideas out there, and ethanol is just one of them. It probably wouldn’t work to run the whole country on ethanol because we use so much gas, but it could help,” he said.