OPINION: RFA uses 'superpowers’ for infrastructure assessments

By Cassie Mullen, director of market development, Renewable Fuels Association | February 06, 2019

Remember how amazed you were the first time you watched Superman use his unique superpower of X-ray vision to literally see through anything—even from miles away? Well, that superpower isn’t fantasy anymore! Since 2016, dozens of retailer chains have asked the Renewable Fuels Association to assist in verifying the compatibility of their underground storage tanks (USTs), dispensers and other infrastructure as they consider offering higher blends of ethanol. And, we’ve been able to use the same amazing superpower to “see” what lies underground and sits above-ground at stations across the country. Well, it might be a bit of an exaggeration to say we have X-ray vision, but we have been able to determine the compatibility of existing equipment using a combination of powerful resources.  

Each station is different, and it is important to understand compatibility and the cost of any upgrades or replacement components to properly assess the move to higher blends of ethanol. As an example, some ethanol opponents have suggested a move to E15 would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per station. That is simply not the case for most retailers, and these surveys have helped retailers better understand their current infrastructure needs and capabilities.

The infrastructure compatibility surveys were done for all types of companies, ranging from retailers with just a few stations to chains with hundreds of locations. One company requested our technical assistance at over 200 locations nationwide. This project helped the company determine the approximate age of all of its equipment, and the type of equipment it could expect within certain regions.    

While X-ray vision certainly would have made our job a lot easier—and cooler—ultimately we opted for a more traditional approach using federal and state databases, petroleum equipment distributor assistance, physical site visits, historical location knowledge, and online imagery. The results were not only encouraging to most retailers, but quite exciting as well.

For the 48 companies in 17 states who requested surveys, the following results were found:

  • •Based on age and type of underground equipment reported, we concluded that nearly 80 percent were currently compatible for up to E85.  Since these stations knew an upgrade to their above-ground equipment would be needed, these surveys focused only on underground equipment.

  • •For E15, 88 percent of the locations where dispenser information was available were found to be fully compatible with this particular higher ethanol blend.

     

The main takeaway from our retailer infrastructure compatibility surveys is to never judge a book by its cover. Even at sites where the retailer assumed the cost to introduce higher blends of ethanol would be prohibitive, we were able to prove otherwise. In many cases where existing dispensers were found to be compatible with E15, we were able to show that with as little as $1,800 per fueling point, the retailer could be well on its way to offering the hottest growing ethanol blend on the market today—E15.

The RFA takes equipment compatibility evaluations very seriously and strongly suggests that retailers exploring options should enlist the help of a qualified PEI contractor before making any major decisions. If equipment cannot be verified, and its compatibility is unknown, it should be replaced before introducing a higher blend of ethanol. RFA wants to ensure that every retailer making equipment changes does so in a way that will allow them to legally and safely offer these higher blends of ethanol for years to come.

If you or any of your customers are interested in learning more about sites surveys or how RFA can help determine your path to higher blends of ethanol, feel free to contact me at cmullen@ethanolrfa.org and I would more than happy to help.