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Alabama to start using alternative-fuel cars beginning next week

MONTGOMERY (AP)— Gov. Bob Riley filled up a Chevrolet Impala at the state motor pool Tuesday with a fuel that's 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline — the first of what Riley said will be about 2,000 state cars using alternative fuels.

Riley said he hopes the state's use of alternative fuels, like the ethanol-based mixture at the motor pool, will encourage others to become less dependent on oil-based products like gasoline. Ethanol is made from corn and other agricultural products.

"We are going to save money, meet environmental needs and help with the fuel crunch," Riley said.

State Motor Pool manager Bill Weston said the ethanol mixture costs about 20 to 25 cents a gallon less than unleaded gasoline. He said he expects state vehicles designed to run on ethanol will begin filling up with the new fuel next week.

"In Alabama we have had experience turning corn into alcohol for years," Riley joked, referring to the history of moonshining in rural Alabama.

Riley said the use of more alternative fuels will help farmers in Alabama and around the country, by expanding the market for their products. The Legislature passed a bill this year to create within the Department of Agriculture and Industries a Center for Alternative Fuels to foster development of alternative fuels.

Some Alabama farmers have said that dry weather in recent years, including this year's drought, has made it difficult to grow corn in much of the state. Some farmers have said they have stopped trying to grow corn.

But Riley said he doesn't believe the dry weather will in the long run prevent Alabama farmers from sharing in a possible windfall from the demand for corn to make ethanol. He said droughts have been a part of history going back to Biblical times.

"This will pass," Riley said. "I have no idea why it's not raining. We're having a real tough one right now."

State Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks said growing corn is more difficult in Alabama than in other states because of hot, dry weather and an earlier planting season. But he said technology is being developed that might help Alabama farmers.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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