J500 Media and the Environment

Jungle Juice for your Jetta by jseverin

Until recently, I thought grain alcohol was just something you mixed with Kool-Aid and served at house parties – the inexpensive “social lubricant” we know as “Jungle Juice”. But it turns out this magic elixir has a far greater purpose. Also known as ethanol, grain alcohol has long been mixed with fuels as an additive to reduce emissions and has taken the national spotlight over the past few years as a possible solution to our oil addiction.


The opening of Zarco Earth Friendly Fuels at 9th & Iowa in Lawrence, KS, is one manifestation of this increased interest in ethanol. I had driven by this new station several times on my way to work, but had never stopped until this weekend. As soon as I pulled up to the pump, the station attendant walked out to explain which of their 13 fuels I could put in my car. One one side of the pump was a button for E-10, a blend of 10% corn-based ethanol and 90% gasoline. The other side had options for E-20, E-30 and E-85. Since I don’t have a flex-fuel vehicle I was only able to fill up with the 10% blend. It was more expensive than the others – the same price as regular gasoline at the traditional station next door – but the attendant who had welcomed me reminded me that E-10 is sold as “mid grade” fuel at some stations, so I was still saving money.

As I waited for my tank to fill, images flashed across the screen on the pump. “Ethanol reduced emissions by up to 50%”. “Produced from a local renewable product” (complete with an image of the American flag). On the other side of the island were pumps dispensing off-road and highway grade soy-based biodiesel, blended at B2 (2% biodiesel, 98% petro diesel), B5, B10, B20, and B99. And, there were recycling bins on the lot. This was certainly not your typical gas station.

In fact, this station is practically one-of-a-kind. In addition to selling fuels that aren’t available at most pumps, the station has a state-of-the art fueling system that blends the fuels on site, allowing for greater variability in what is offered without increasing transportation and storage. Zarco hopes to make additional improvements in the future to lessen their footprint. Solar, wind, and/or geothermal systems to power the station, a green roof, and additional tools to educate the public about alternative energy are among the possibilities. Eventually, this station could serve as a model for “green gas stations” in our region.

As discussed elsewhere on this blog, biofuels are not without their share of problems. The recent biofuels craze has raised concerns about environmental impacts and a realization that there may not be enough farmland to feed ourselves and our fuel consumption. There are also technical issues with the distribution of biofuels (ethanol readily takes on water so can’t be easily transported in existing pipelines) that must be overcome to avoid putting more carbon into the atmosphere through transport.

However, like with electrical power sources, transitioning to a carbon-free future may require a blend of solutions and a few crutches along the way. While corn-based ethanol probably isn’t the cure to our fossil-fuel addiction, other sources for biofuels are under development using less intensive crops and algae. Innovative fuel stations like Zarco Earth Friendly Fuels will help pave the way for these – and perhaps yet to be discovered solutions – by encouraging more efficient distribution systems, minimizing the footprint of fueling stations, and keeping the public educated about their options. In the meantime, the grain alcohol we once enjoyed at house parties may just help us slide by until a better alternative comes along.



3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thank you so much for this post. I drive by Zarco every week and have not stopped in because I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to support our corn-addiction. Your comments have helped shift my view. I am not a proponent of corn ethanol as a longterm solution BUT I am a support of local business that is working towards a more sustainable mission. I greatly appreciate the care they gave to you and only hope that we can all do our part to continue to educate people about the evolution of bio-fuels.

Comment by j500

What is better, supporting a corn addiction, or a crude oil addiction?

Clearly a debate in the lesser of two evils.

At least the corn burns cleaner.


Comment by acbowman

To be honest, I won’t buy ethanol at a traditional station – even though the same product is available right next door. It’s another lesser of two evils situation, and I’d prefer to buy from a station that is making efforts on other fronts, not just their main product.

As we’ve discussed before, it’s tough to make these kinds of decisions, especially when it is such a challenge to separate the sincere businesses from the greenwashers. I truly believe in this instance it is not just greenwashing. But are there resources out there to help people make those types of decisions? Perhaps an online network that posts legit local businesses and those to be leary of?

– Jeff

Comment by jseverin

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