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It's been a bad month for ethanol fans. Record-low prices forced several companies to shut down plants or delay expansion. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., poked fun at the industry's subsidies during a presidential debate. And Congress' progress on an energy bill with a big mandate for biofuels remained stuck in low gear.

But there was one piece of good news -- federal government approval for the first kit to allow older vehicles to burn E85.

After more than a year of tests, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted a license to a Chicago company, Flex Fuel U.S., to sell its conversion kit for 2006 Ford Crown Victorias, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Cars in business fleets.

Such kits have long been a dream of ethanol boosters for expanding the market for E85. Brazil used such kits to convert many of its vehicles and slash its thirst for imported oil.

But the EPA requires modifiers to meet the same emission standards that automakers do, for up to 100,000 miles after the kit is installed -- a high hurdle for many small companies.

Flex Fuel says the Crown Vic kit is only the first, and more models will be able to undergo flex-change surgery in the future. It plans to offer the kits for about $1,200 installed, and hopes to sell about 10,000.

By Justin Hyde

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