OPINION: Prepare for the future

By Robert White | May 02, 2019

When RFA’s market development team speaks with fuel retailers across the country, we always recommend “future proofing” their stations. Let’s be honest, we don’t know what the future holds, or at what pace those changes will come. That is why it is more important than ever that as equipment changes are considered, retailers are thinking of all the possibilities that come into play over the course of those equipment lifespans.

Let’s talk first about E15. It debuted in the marketplace nearly 7 years ago and is now available in 30 states and expanding. By now, maybe even your competition is offering it, or they are considering it. In essence, E15 is mid-grade fuel that costs less than regular unleaded and is approved for all 2001 and newer light duty vehicles. That is more than 92 percent of all vehicles on the road today and growing—what an opportunity!

For the last decade, equipment manufacturers, industry groups and federal agencies have been hard at work to expand the amount of equipment compatible with E15. In fact, a study released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which was commissioned by the Renewable Fuels Association, addressed compatibility through a literature review, a summary of applicable codes and standards, review of equipment manufacturer products, and verification with manufacturers regarding which ethanol blends work with their products. The report found that over time, equipment manufacturers have improved their sealing materials for compatibility with a wide range of fuels. Upgrading materials in equipment improves consumer safety and reduces the risk of releases to the environment.

It is often stated by critics that underground storage tanks (USTs) cannot be used to store E15, but this assertion is incorrect as the majority of installed tanks are approved to store blends containing more than 10 percent ethanol. The same NREL report also looked at USTs. For many decades, UST manufacturers have approved their tanks for blends up to E100 (100 percent ethanol). For example, all steel tanks and double-walled fiberglass tanks since the year 1990 are approved for all blends up to E100. Many manufacturers of pipe thread sealants (so-called “pipe dope”) used in UST systems have stated that their products have been compatible with ethanol blends up to E20 for many years.

For those tanks with low ethanol blend certifications, the U.S. EPA’s Office of Underground Storage Tanks issued guidance in 2011 to enable alternative compliance with federal code as UST systems are in use for decades. This guidance allowed tank manufacturers to issue letters stating the compatibility of their tanks with specific ethanol blends. All existing tank manufacturers have issued such letters, and the majority of installed tanks are compatible with E15. Additionally, all existing pipe manufacturers have Underwriters Laboratories (UL) listing for E100.

One of the key examples of movement by equipment manufacturers is Wayne Fueling Systems. Did you know that both the Wayne Ovation fuel dispenser platform and Wayne Helix fuel dispenser platform come with UL E25 listing as standard without any additional charge? Wayne simply eliminated the base offering of E10 and replaced it with E25 at no additional cost. In most cases, this change gives retailers instant flexibility to explore offering E15 to 2001 and newer vehicles, or E20 or E25 to all flex fuel vehicles (FFVs). Dispensers, like most equipment, are a long-term decision, and the fuel landscape is changing dramatically. Whether that is E15 for 2001 and newer vehicles, or a higher blend like E85 for flex fuel vehicles, there is a growing market today. The future looks bright for a higher octane, higher ethanol content blend like E25 for future engine technology that will allow higher fuel economy at a lower price.

We are here to help retailers through this decision process. Whether you are considering new equipment today, tomorrow or next year, we encourage you to prepare your station(s) for the future. If you would like to learn more about the RFA, the ethanol industry, or offering these higher blends, please visit: https://ethanolrfa.org/retailers/.