OPINION: Retailers and E15 infrastructure

By Cassie Mullen, director of market development at the Renewable Fuels Association | July 03, 2019

At the end of May, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency removed the key regulatory barrier to using gasoline blended with up to 15% ethanol (E15) during the summer driving season, a significant barrier to wider sales of E15. This decision expanded the market for ethanol in transportation fuel and giving drivers more choice at the pump. 

For nearly four decades, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has been the trusted ethanol industry leader supporting those who produce and sell renewable fuels. With the recent decision to remove the outdated regulatory barrier on E15, retailers may want additional information and technical resources from a trusted source.

RFA has worked with EPA, terminal operators, retailers, and many others to provide important tools to every part of the supply chain before E15 ends up in drivers’ gas tanks, as mentioned in last month’s newsletter. We want to ensure that retailers, marketers, terminal operators and others who are taking a serious look at E15 for the first time have all the information they need at their fingertips, especially when it comes to infrastructure.

Each station has its own unique infrastructure story, and certainly needs to be addressed as such. With that said, there are still some common misunderstandings associated with what it takes to make a site compatible for higher ethanol blends. In my more than 25 years of experience in the petroleum equipment and construction field, I’ve seen firsthand how daunting it can be for a retailer to consider a change to their current underground infrastructure.

Trying to get a sense of the overall cost is important, and there are a lot of numbers thrown around.

Recently, I reached out to one of the nation’s largest equipment distributors for an opinion. It is always important to be cautious and not to throw out a broad figure considering the number of variables to be considered; however, if a site were to consider adding a higher blend of ethanol at a location where the existing tanks and pipes were already compatible the low end cost could range between $10,000 and $25,000—not considering required labor, secondary containment, permitting or anything associated with the fuel dispenser itself.

Conversely, if a retailer were to build a brand-new site and were looking for equipment to handle higher blends of ethanol, the cost would be much less – ranging from $2,200 and $2,700 per fuel point. (again, dispensers, labor, containment, and permitting not included) That amount would be in addition to the cost of standard equipment.

If you are considering an upgrade to your C-store’s fueling equipment to offer higher ethanol blends, materials compatibility is a critical consideration during new installations and upgrades. Whatever your future holds, the RFA is always an available resource; we also recommend you consult your local petroleum equipment distributor and speak with your state and local officials before making any decisions. Education today, could save thousands tomorrow.