“Live Green, Go Yellow” is more than a slogan for General Motors; it’s also a strategy for what the nation’s largest automaker sees as part of the solution to U.S. dependence on foreign oil. By building vehicles that can run on E-85, a high-octane fuel blend of 85-percent ethanol and 15-percent gasoline, GM hopes to help produce leaner, greener fleets.

Ethanol is made by grinding, cooking, and distilling plant matter (mainly corn kernels — the “Yellow” part of the equation) into a liquid form that is nearly 100-percent grain alcohol. At present, most of the ethanol produced for fuel is used for gasohol, a 10-percent ethanol, 90-percent gas blend that nearly every modern car can run on.

Only flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs), equipped with a noncorrosive fuel system and engine parts, can burn E-85. General Motors has been a leader in building E-85-capable vehicles, and the automaker shows no signs of slowing down.

Technology Now Standard or Available on 13 Models
By the end of 2007, GM will have built more than 400,000 FFVs, its highest annual yield to date. The technology is now either standard or available on 13 different GM models, from the full-size Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra pickups to the Impala sedan. FFVs can run on E-85, gasoline, or any mix thereof, even in the same tank.

However, if a fleet includes FFVs, the question is, are drivers even aware of it? GM is forming partnerships with Shell Oil and VeraSun Energy to get the word out.

Shell Oil Co., based in Houston, partnered with GM in 2006 to install 26 new E-85 refueling pumps in Shell gas stations throughout the Chicago area.

That collaboration followed a successful partnership with Brookings, S.D.-based VeraSun Energy Corp., the country’s second-leading ethanol producer, in which GM helped to promote the availability of VE85 (VeraSun’s branded E-85) in the Sioux Falls, S.D. and Chicago metro areas.

GM’s Campaign Goes National
Although E-85 is more accessible in the Midwest, where FFV drivers are in close proximity to the farmlands and distilling plants in which ethanol is produced, GM’s campaign has since gone nationwide.

New partnerships with Chevron Technology Ventures and California-based Pacific Ethanol are raising awareness in that state, and ethanol advocacy groups such as the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition and the Governors Ethanol Coalition promise to spread the word even further. Last year, GM loaned 28 FFVs to various states and organizations around the country.

Moving forward, the automaker will continue to push alternative fuels into the American mainstream. “GM is pursuing gasoline-savings solutions on many fronts on the way to our ultimate vision of hydrogen fuel cell-powered transportation,” says Elizabeth Lowery, GM vice president of environment and energy. “E-85 ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline and is a renewable, domestic fuel that can enhance the nation’s economy and energy security.”