OPINION: Terminal availability of E15 grows as RVP relief nears

By Robert White, vice president of industry relations at the Renewable Fuels Association | March 05, 2019

When E15 (gasoline containing 15% ethanol) debuted in 2012, it was created at retail sites by using blender pumps to dilute E85 (fuel containing up to 85% denatured ethanol) with E10. Blender pump technology was not new; in fact, it had been used for decades to make midgrade gasoline, combining premium and regular unleaded. Many of the retailers that adopted E15 in subsequent years took the same approach to blending E15. Some of this is due to funding opportunities like USDA’s Biofuels Infrastructure Partnership (BIP) Program and the ethanol industry’s Prime the Pump initiative.

But many retailers were not able to make E15 onsite via blender pumps because of infrastructure limitations or other reasons, meaning they were missing out on the opportunity to offer lower-cost, higher-octane E15 to their customers. For the first several years after E15 was approved, there were no fuel terminals that offered pre-blended E15 as an option.  Thankfully, that all started to change in 2016.

The HWRT Oil Company was the first to announce E15 availability at terminals in Illinois, Arkansas, and Indiana in 2016. A year later, Magellan announced E15 availability throughout its midcontinent terminal system, which includes more than 50 sites. GROWMARK Energy followed suit in 2018, announcing E15 in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri and just last week, the company expanded its E15 footprint by adding 17 new terminals in Arkansas, Kansas, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.

Fuel marketers and retailers around these terminals can now take delivery of E15 just like they can with E10 regular unleaded, premium, and diesel. If you have available tanks, you may be able to offer E15 quickly. E15 does have a few extra regulatory requirements, but none that should deter a retailer from trying it. It is important to check your equipment for compatibility above E10, and RFA has assisted hundreds of retailers with these evaluations. Each station is different and requires careful analysis and inspection to determine if any upgrades or new equipment is needed or required. Most tanks are compatible with E15, as are most dispensers. In fact, all dispensers from Wayne Fueling Systems have been compatible with E15 since the early 2000s, and with E25 (gasoline containing 25% ethanol) for the past three years.

But terminal operators and position holders are just like any other businesses—they need certainty. That’s why it is crucially important for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to expeditiously complete the regulatory fix necessary to allow year-round sales of E15 before commencement of the summer driving season. As recently underscored by GROWMARK, terminals will stop offering pre-blended E15 on May 1—unless there is a clear and compelling signal from EPA that the current summertime “ban” on E15 will be lifted before June 1.

Today, more than 1,600 stations in 30 states offer E15. While E15 sales stats vary per station, most are reporting that overall sales are climbing. These sales are attributable not just to returning customers who are choosing E15 instead of E10, but also to new customers visiting the stations for the first time because of lower prices and more options. New customers also mean increased sales inside the station too. These stations also have a new way to differentiate themselves from their competition when advertising locally or posting on their price sign.

Consumers remain on the hunt for a lower cost fuel option that is safe for their vehicles and E15 can provide that to them. E15 successfully completed more than 6 million miles’ worth of testing before EPA approved the fuel in 2012, and billions of hassle-free miles have been driven on E15 by the motoring public. There has not been one reported issue with E15 during fueling or when driving on E15. It also remains a lower cost, higher octane option for retailers and consumers. Thanks to these terminal companies, it also gets easier every year for more retailers to offer the fuel.

RFA stands ready to help more fuel terminals with the process, as well as fuel retailers considering a change to their fuel options. If you would like to learn more about the RFA, the ethanol industry, or higher blends, please visit: https://ethanolrfa.org/retailers/.