San Antonio Express, TX
Pilot aims to fuel future
Delcia Lopez, Express-News
Above the San Antonio skyline, aerobatics pilot Greg Poe flies the Fagen MX-2,
powered by ethanol.
You may have seen Greg Poe maneuvering his little Fagen MX-2 in the skies
above San Antonio last week.
The diminutive red prop plane, barely two dozen feet from wingtip to wingtip,
nimbly dances in the air to the expert commands of the Idaho-based aerobat.
Come Nov. 3 and 4 at the Randolph AFB Air Show, Poe will unveil his full
repertoire of tumbles and spins.
But Poe is selling more than just thrills. His plane is the first unlimited aerobatic
aircraft to run on ethanol, a message that sponsor Fagen Inc. likes to promote
clearly with the slogan on the tail: "Ethanol Kicks Gas!"
Poe says his shows carry a simple message for the growing industry that should
soon make a mark on Texas.
"If I'm willing to fly this at an air show 50 feet off the ground upside down, then
obviously we have a lot of confidence in ethanol," he said.
Poe is on the promotional end of a fuel that is made more appealing by oil prices
of roughly $90 a barrel. But his plane is not the only motorized publicity tool
seeking to raise ethanol's profile. This year the IndyCar Series began fueling its
racing cars with 100 percent ethanol.
Ethanol is a fuel made by converting organic matter into sugar and then
fermenting the sugar. It is touted as a clean-burning alternative to oil, although
there is still some controversy about anti-pollution, global warming claims and
Corn is currently the main source of the fuel, but other ethanol options thought to
hold even more potential are being explored.
Poe's plane runs on about 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent airplane fuel.
The mixture contains significantly more ethanol than the automobile mix of 10
percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline mandated in a handful of states, and it
boosts the power of the plane's 385 horsepower engine by about 15 percent over
standard fuel, Poe said.
Currently, the Corn Belt states dominate national ethanol production, which
stands at around 7 billion gallons a year, according to Iowa State University
economist Bruce Babcock.
That number would have to double for the entire nation's gasoline supply to be
mixed with 10 percent ethanol.
"But that's going to take a lot more infrastructure to get us there," Babcock said.
Texas' first ethanol refinery should open in the Panhandle shortly after the
beginning of the year. Two more should open in the same area by summer.
That would rev up the state's production of the corn-based fuel from zero to 300
million gallons a year. A fourth plant could be operational by the end of next year.
Nationally, the industry is seeing similar growth, according to the Renewable
Fuels Association, which reported that the industry closed last year with 73 new
refineries under construction and under expansion.
Corn growers in Texas and across the country already have pumped up
production roughly 20 percent to meet the demand, said David Gibson, executive
director of the Texas Corn Producers Board.
Texas may not be in the Corn Belt, but it has one advantage over many other
ethanol states, Babcock said.
It has a ready and close supply of cattle to eat the distillers' grain, a byproduct of
production, whereas most refineries have to dry and ship the grain.
Poe expects to get plenty of questions regarding the fuel at the air show next
"Everyone knows about ethanol, but people really don't know what it is," he said.
"The interest is because people are sick of the price at the pump."