OPINION: Top rated gas station chains also top for fuel choice

By Robert White, vice president for industry relations, Renewable Fuels Association | November 04, 2020

A new list of the Top 10 gas station brands in the United States reflects something more that clean bathrooms and tasty pizza—it also reflects real fuel options for American drivers. Of USA Today’s Top 10 retail chains, nine offer higher blends of ethanol. These include Kwik Trip, Hy-Vee, Sheetz, QuikTrip, Casey's, Maverik, Rutter's, Parker's, and Kum & Go.

We’ve been proud to work with many of these brands over the years as they have come to realize that drivers who want a wide selection of coffees also want broader fuel options. Offering higher blends helps set these retailers apart from others and provide an enormous amount of good will with their customers, many of whom seek the benefits of blends from 15 to 85 percent ethanol.

These benefits include:

    Lower cost per gallon. Price is the No. 1 factor for fuel choices by most drivers. For them, higher blends offer significant savings per gallon, especially compared to gasoline without any ethanol. While E85 is suitable for Flex Fuel vehicles and typically offers the most savings, E15 is a blend that’s safe (and warranted) for nearly all cars and light trucks sold in the United States.

    Lower carbon emissions. Grain-based ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 35 to 50 percent compared to gasoline. Emerging technologies promise to boost that reduction to around 70 percent in just the next few years, according to the USDA. The use of ethanol in gasoline in 2019 reduced CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector by 54.1 million metric tons. That’s equivalent to removing 11.5 million cars from the road for an entire year or eliminating the annual emissions from 13 coal-fired power plants.

    More power through higher octane. As automakers introduce more efficient engine technologies, the demand for higher-octane fuels continues to grow. Traditional petroleum-based octane additives are expensive and in short supply, and aromatic hydrocarbon octane additives like benzene are toxic and worsen air pollution. E15 is usually offered at an octane rating of 88, giving consumers an added boost at a lower cost. Higher fuel blends like E20 or E40 could deliver even more octane, enabling the same—or better—fuel economy as regular gasoline when used in an optimized engine.

Recently, we helped several dozen retailers go through the complicated USDA Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program grant process—and scored a 100 percent success rate: All of the retailers we assisted are receiving grants. Applications assisted by RFA, with the help of the National Corn Growers Association and Christianson PLLP, covered more than 200 locations across 21 states. Combined, these locations sell more than 250 million gallons of gasoline annually. RFA provided services and assistance for $21 million in grant requests which are being now being fulfilled—and will be matched with another $31 million in private funding for a total investment in higher blends infrastructure of more than $52 million.

This grant program will go far in supporting the sort of fuel options today’s drivers are seeking. Today, about 2,000 gas stations in the country offer E15, and just over 5,000 offer Flex Fuel. Retailers who want customers to keep coming back need to do a lot more than offer a wide variety of beef jerky. Customers have shown repeatedly that options and variety at the pump is as important as options and variety inside the store. If you would like to join these innovative gas station chains and learn more about offering higher blends of ethanol, please don’t hesitate to contact us today.