Will 2019 Finally be The Year of E15?

FROM THE MARCH ISSUE: Correcting misconceptions about E15 to gain wider adoption.
By Ron Lamberty | February 18, 2019

Retailer interest in E15 increased over the past few months, with many retailers believing President Donald Trump “signed something” making E15 legal year-round at an event in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in October. We’ve explained there wasn’t any law or rule put into place at the rally, and there’s a process to be completed before the E15 summer RVP “fix” is a reality, but most retailers we’ve talked to seem confident E15 year-round will be the law because the president said it would be the law.

We expect increased interest from other retailers (who don’t follow politics as closely) when the U.S. EPA submits the rule the president promised (soon, we hope), and petroleum and convenience store industry press covers the rule and process between now and Memorial Day. Again, assuming the rule is submitted soon, this new curiosity about E15 should coincide nicely with the half-dozen or more petroleum marketer conferences and trade shows ACE is attending this spring.

Station owners and operators who can’t attend conferences or workshops can get the most current information available on flexfuelforward.com, where retailers who have already “been there and done that” with E15 are available to share their real-world experiences adding and marketing E15.

Everything from regulations to incentives to RIN-less ethanol suppliers to fuel marketer war stories, as well as links to other ethanol information sources, can be found at flexfuelforward.com. 

One of our most pressing challenges is correcting a mixed message we’ve unintentionally put out to the fuel retailing community, especially the single-store and small-chain owners and operators. When we encouraged retailers to try E15 after EPA granted its partial waiver in 2011, we said it would cost little or nothing to add this new fuel grade. Ethanol opponents threw around outrageous cost numbers for adding E15, usually obfuscating the truth using E85-compatible equipment costs, and always assuming station owners would have to add new pumps, tanks and lines to offer a new grade of fuel. Apparently, oil companies can’t understand why station owners would be willing to give up premium sales making up a few percent of their fuel volume, or the midgrade infrastructure that is as good as the day Big Oil forced stations to install it, since nobody ever buys midgrade. Changing one of those products to E15 costs next to nothing and 90 percent of cars on the road can use it. What’s holding everyone up?

Unfortunately, we muddied that message ourselves when the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Biofuels Infrastructure Partnership (BIP) program was announced. Suddenly we were touting $200 million in grants from USDA, states and ethanol industry initiatives for pumps, tanks and other equipment for blends above 10 percent ethanol. That confused people we had recently told there was very little cost to add E15. After all, why would they need millions of dollars to offer a product we can sell with existing equipment?

And while touting E15’s introduction to the market by large, respected retail convenience store chains captured the attention of most of the c-store industry, it also created backlash among the single and small chains mentioned earlier. First, there was the perception big retailers put in E15 because only big retailers could, reinforcing the “high cost” propaganda. Then, when press reports showed their “rich” competitors got all the BIP money and other funds, single-store and small-chain owners—the people who were first to move ethanol in the past—had enough of E15.

That perception is not reality, and we must correct it if E15 is ever going to spread nationwide. ACE looks forward to continuing to do our part in the coming months and beyond.

Author: Ron Lamberty
Senior Vice President
American Coalition for Ethanol