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August 1, 2007 at 5:35 PM

Ethanol craze takes to the skies

This year’s Seafair aerial extravaganza will feature Greg Poe — an acrobatic pilot whose single-engine propeller plane can run on 100% ethanol, instead of gasoline.

The biofuel – extracted mainly from corn in the U.S. – doesn’t perform differently than the gasoline traditionally used in small propeller planes, says Poe. With one exception.

“It does burn cleaner,” says Poe. “I can smell it in the exhaust when I’m doing my aerobatic routines.”

Poe’s sponsor: Fagen, an engineering and construction firm that manufactures ethanol plants. Poe’s performance is “a good way to help educate the public about the benefits of ethanol,” the pilot says.

The ethanol industry is pushing hard to evangelize Americans about the virtues of fuel extracted from the heartland’s farms. Major engineering companies and pro-ethanol organizations have already spurred the Indianapolis 500 to run its race cars on the fuel.

The increasing use of corn ethanol, although it represents a boon to U.S. farmers, is not without controversy. Rising energy prices and concerns about reliance on foreign oil have contributed to its rising popularity. But critics claim that it has contributed to an increase in food prices, and that the corn-based fuel is not a very efficient way of getting energy.

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