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Fueling a change
Gas prices driving some to switch to alternatives

BUFORD - Buddy Griggers' truck, a Ford F-150, has two gas tanks.

One holds good old-fashioned unleaded gasoline. The other takes propane.

To shift between them, he just flips a switch on his dashboard.

"It's the only way to fly," Griggers said of the propane-powered vehicle. "It's the perfect fuel for fleet owners. It's inexpensive, it's greener and there's less maintenance."

Across the state, alternative fuels - such as propane - are beginning to take up more space at the pump. Rubin Schulman, who owns the Cocktail Cove Gas and Convenience store in Buford, said he used to carry propane primarily for grillers and boaters.

Now, he's planning to add pumps for biodiesel and E85, an ethanol blend, to his gas station. Schulman also said he wants to use the store as a hub for an alternatively fueled vanpool that will take commuters across the area.

"There are so many different alternative fuels," he said. "The more supply you have, the better it is for everybody."

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are 97 places in the state where drivers can get something other than gasoline. In Georgia, there are 27 biodiesel stations, 19 for compressed natural gas, 12 for E85 and 39 where propane is sold.

Several of those are in Gwinnett.

Nayef Abuaisheh sells E85 at a converted diesel pump behind his Safa Express BP station on Grayson Highway. He said in the mornings, lines can be 40 or 50 cars long as drivers wait to fill up.

"I was really surprised with the volume," he said. "I've been very, very pleased."

Abuaisheh is planning to add a second E85 pump to the station, this one with a card reader to make it even more convenient for drivers to choose alternative fuels.

"Before the end of the year, there should be 25 or 30 stations in the Atlanta area," he said. "It's exciting. It's wonderful to see people use it, whatever the reason is."

He started selling the fuel April 10 because of its lessened environmental impact, Abuaisheh said. Some customers say they're interested in decreasing Americans' dependence on foreign oil, while others are simply excited about the lower price.

Earlier this week, E85 was selling for $2.99 a gallon at the store, while regular unleaded gasoline went for $3.59. The Atlanta average for regular unleaded on Wednesday was $3.62 a gallon.

Last week, propane sold for $3.05 a gallon.

Griggers, who works in sales for Georgia Gas, said one of the perks of driving his alternatively fueled vehicle for work is the ability to ride alone in the high-occupancy vehicle lane on area highways. Abuaisheh also said that was a draw for some of his customers, as well.

In June, he said, he plans to sell the E85 for 85 cents a gallon for several hours as a way to make more people aware of the corn concoction. E85 can also be made from sugar cane or other materials, and scientists here are trying to formulate it out of pine trees.

"Most customers are really, really excited," he said. "I feel good also because I'm doing my part to help the environment."

SideBar: If you buy

E85:

Safa Express BP,

725 Grayson Highway, Lawrenceville

Planned E85 pumps, not yet accessible:

· Citgo, 3820 Ga. Highway 20, Buford

· Texaco, 1525 Mountain Industrial Blvd.,

Stone Mountain

Propane:

· Cocktail Cove Gas and Convenience,

5719 Holiday Road, Buford

· U-Haul, 1290

Pleasant Hill Road, Lawrenceville

· Ace Hardware,

5355 Five Forks Trickum Road, Lilburn

· U-Haul, 5365

Jimmy Carter Blvd., Norcross

· U-Haul, 2161 Hewatt Road, Snellville

· U-Haul, 4940 Memorial Drive, Stone Mountain

· Handy Ace Hardware, 4315 Hugh Howell Road, Tucker

There are no compressed natural gas stations in Gwinnett. Two biodiesel stations are in the county, but are private access pumps for Georgia Power only.