Gasoline's sudden jump past the $3 a gallon threshold apparently has sparked renewed interest in E85, the alternative fuel which is 85 percent ethanol.
"Demand is up greatly. The past three weeks actually it's been trending upwards," said Brian Koenig, president of Sterling Stores, of Wauseon, which operates two stores in the Toledo area that sell E85.
For Meijer Stores Inc., which has an Adrian store and 19 others in Michigan selling E85, demand has been rising, said chain spokesman Stacie Behler. Meijer has no E85 pumps in Ohio.
No sales estimates were provided, however.
E85 typically is 20 to 30 cents a gallon cheaper than regular gasoline, but it can be used safely only in designated vehicles. It produces lower fuel mileage, however, than regular gasoline.
Customers shopping for cars consider flexible fuel engines, which permit the use of regular gasoline or E85. General Motors Corp. makes many of them.
At Dunn Chevrolet-Buick in Oregon, new car manager Walt Ericson said, "We are seeing an increase in interest, I think mainly because of the news media getting involved, and GM getting involved."
Having a vehicle that can use E85 is not high on customers' shopping priorities, Mr. Ericson said, but buyers are told whether a vehicle can use the fuel.
Both Meijer and Kroger Co. formed alliances with GM to carry and promote the ethanol-based fuel.
The retailers provide the fuel, and GM tells customers where they can obtain E85 through Kroger and Meijer stores.
A check yesterday showed Toledo-area Sterling Stores charged $3.08 for regular unleaded and $2.78 for E85. At local Krogers, the price was $2.98 for regular and $2.68 for E85.
Locally, two Sterling stores and four Kroger stores sell E85.
The price of gasoline and of ethanol fell yesterday on commodity exchanges.
A government report last week showed ethanol production in the United States climbed to a pace of 5.9 billion gallons a year in February as more refineries began production.
The Andersons Inc., of Maumee, began production at its second ethanol plant, this one in Clymers, Ind., with a capacity of 110 million gallons a year.
The firm has a plant near Albion, Mich., producing up to 55 million gallons a year. It has a third plant under construction near Greenville, Ohio, and has applied for permits in three other places.
Contact Jon Chavez at: