OPINION: Changing the retail landscape for higher blends

By Cassie Mullen, director of market development, Renewable Fuels Association | December 03, 2020

Fuel retailers are beginning to implement a wide range of infrastructure projects across the country. This comes as USDA’s new Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program is being fully implemented, something farmers and the ethanol industry played an instrumental role in helping to make happen. With the support of the National Corn Growers Association, the Renewable Fuels Association assisted in HBIIP applications that cover more than 200 locations across 21 states.

Orion Oil, one of RFA’s newest members, has big plans for the expansion of higher blends of ethanol being assisted by the recent HBIIP grant award from USDA. The Florida-based Orion was awarded nearly $2 million to support the expansion of higher blends of ethanol at 19 of its locations through 100 state-of-the-art blender dispensers.

In the western outskirts of Miami-Dade County, downtown Doral has emerged as a sophisticated urban destination complete with several luxury condominium towers, townhouses, apartments, office buildings, shops, restaurants, a charter school, a park with a public art pavilion and a government center. Soon, it will also be the home to a new Orion Oil convenience store. This site is not only in the heart of a major attraction for the area, but also just minutes from Orion’s corporate office. The company has pulled out all the stops for this site, which will serve as its flagship location. While this is not Orion’s first effort at higher blends, it certainly takes it to another level.

Meanwhile in Chicago, Sam Odeh, founder and CEO of Power Buying Dealers USA and Power Mart Corp., has likewise been growing the ethanol footprint in an urban setting. His company also worked with RFA to request almost $1.5 million to install 60 dispensers and four underground storage tanks at 10 fueling stations in Illinois.

Odeh and the PBD family have been longtime supporters of ethanol, and over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend they welcomed their 25th location offering higher blends of ethanol, in Downers Grove, a western suburb of Chicago. During the grand opening ceremony, Rep. Darin LaHood proudly announced this location alone will contribute over a million gallons in clean, green, home-grown fuels into the marketplace. At this new location, consumers can now choose from a wide range of higher blended ethanol including E15, E30, E50, E70 and E85. In a bold and innovative move, this site has cast aside all traditional blends and is offering higher blends at all five of their dispensers. This project was funded through an earlier incentive program and lays the groundwork for future stations with the HBIIP funding.

Over in Lincoln, Neb., Whitehead Oil owns and operates 23 U-Stop convenience stores and gas stations, selling under the Phillips 66 label. Construction is expected to start in July at a new location, to be open within five months. Whitehead is especially excited about this project because not only is it their first E15 site, it is also the first full-service truck stop in the U-Stop family of stores. The store will be spread over 8,000 square feet and will have a quick-serve restaurant. This new build will include 12 Gilbarco Encore 700 Series dispensers, and E15 will be available at all of them. Five B20 biodiesel dispensers will also be part of the project. RFA worked with Whitehead through the HBIIP grant process, and the company was awarded more than $250,000 for the development. Whitehead currently offers E85 at five of its locations and is hoping that the success of this newest site will lead to expansion of the offering at additional sites.

RFA is excited to see these changes taking place. As we begin the new year, we can be certain there will be more good news to share. As always, we stand ready and able to assist retailers in their specific needs when it comes to evolving into high-octane, low-carbon ethanol blends.