General Motors Corp. is partnering with grocery store chain Kroger Stores to add new E85 fueling stations in Ohio, part of an initiative in that state to triple the number of ethanol pumps by year’s end.

Since May 2005, GM has linked up with various retailers and fuel providers in a mission to add 160 E85 ethanol fueling sites by the end of 2006.

E85 flexible-fuel vehicles may run on any combination of gasoline and/or E85 ethanol, a fuel blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.

The first of the planned E85 ethanol pumps in Ohio will be installed next month, officials say. Kroger plans to add locations in central Ohio, Dayton, Cincinnati and Toledo.

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft recently signed a law to provide financial assistance to retailers adding or converting pumps to carry ethanol and biodiesel, an expense that can reach $100,000 per pump. The Republican governor expects the GM/Kroger partnership will help the state achieve its goal of tripling the number of E85 pumps in Ohio from six to 18 by the end of the year.

Ohio will be home to five ethanol production plants, with three now under construction. The five plants are expected to collectively produce up to 270 million gallons (1.02 billion L) of ethanol each year, requiring 100 million bushels of corn annually.

Critics of E85 say the fuel doesn’t net a decrease in energy consumption because of the power required to produce it from corn and the lower fuel economy for cars and trucks operating on it.

GM’s fleet of E85-capable vehicles will reach 400,000 this year, the auto maker says. Last week, Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Group and GM pledged to double output of E85 vehicles by 2010.