The state of Wisconsin, the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition (NEVC) and General Motors on Wednesday launched a six-state initiative to promote greater use of corn-based ethanol fuel, E85, as an alternative to petrol. The announcement was made at the opening of Wisconsin's seventh E85 fuelling station in Janesville.

E85, which is 85% ethanol and 15% petrol, is currently made from domestically produced corn. Its price and performance are similar to that of regular petrol, but ethanol is renewable, produces fewer emissions and helps reduce demand for imported oil. The market for E85 has increased 10-fold during the past five years, to about 10 million gallons a year.

The public awareness effort is part of a two-year partnership with the nonprofit NEVC focused on increasing E85 use in flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs), which can use either E85 or petrol. The direct-mail programme, called "I Fuel Good," will target owners of 2002 and 2003 model year GM flexible fuel vehicles by giving them a $US40 debit card that can be used to purchase E85 fuel. Owners also will receive E85 informational literature, a list of refuelling stations in their area, a window sticker and a T-shirt. Additionally, participating GM dealers will receive assistance in educating customers about the benefits of using E85.

Missouri, Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois also are participating in the education campaign.

By the end of the year, Wisconsin will have 11 retail E85 stations and the state already has about 12,500 E85 vehicles in operation and has long advocated use of this home-grown alternative fuel. In 1990, the Wisconsin Alternative Fuels Task Force was established to educate the public about the benefits of using alternative fuels, including E85. A year later, Wisconsin became a founding member of the Governors' Ethanol Coalition, a bipartisan organisation of 29 governors created to increase the use of ethanol fuels nationwide.

Ethanol made from corn reduces the United States' demand for imported oil by 98,000 barrels per day - representing a $US1.1 billion annual reduction in the country's trade deficit. In the future, producers will be able to make ethanol from biomass such as corn and wheat stalks and forestry waste.

GM produces more than a third of the more than three million E85 flexible fuel vehicles on American roads. All 2002 and newer Chevrolet and GMC full-size SUVs equipped with the Vortec 5300 engine are E85-capable, including the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban; and the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL produced at GM's Janesville assembly plant. Specially equipped Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickups also are available with E85 capability.

"E85 is only beginning to become more widely available, and we're pleased to be able to provide consumers with an incentive to try this alternative fuel and see the benefits for themselves," said GM's fleet & commercial operations director of marketing John Gaydash. "We want to educate and encourage industry and consumers to use E85 in their GM flexible fuel vehicles whenever possible."

The National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition is the nation's primary advocate dedicated to the use of 85% ethanol as a form of alternative transportation fuel. It is a coalition of corn growers, ethanol producers and vehicle manufacturers based in Jefferson City, Missouri.