OPINION: Infrastructure that makes a difference

By Cassie Mullen, director of market development, Renewable Fuels Association | April 01, 2021

Infrastructure proposals are flying fast and loose in our nation’s capital these days, especially those that can have an impact on our planet. At the same time—flying under the radar—has been the latest round of grants approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under its Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program, also known as HBIIP.

This is an important effort begun last year by the USDA to expand the availability of low-carbon, American-produced renewable fuels like ethanol into the marketplace—bolstering rural jobs, energy security and both environmental and human health by cutting both particulate and greenhouse gas emissions. The benefits of this effort will reach beyond farmers, ethanol producers, retailers and drivers, to the nation as a whole. It’s the sort of infrastructure improvement that easily crosses party and policy lines.

After a successful first round of grants, USDA reopened the HBIIP program in December, and grants are now being announced to their recipients. In this round of funding, $22 million was made available. Of this, $15 million was for implementation activities related to higher blends of fuel ethanol—defined as greater than 10 percent ethanol, including E15 and E85. Another $7 million was made available for eligible implementation activities related to terminal operations, depots, and/or midstream partners, for eligible implementation activities related to higher blends of biodiesel greater than 5 percent biodiesel, such as B20 or higher.

In this latest funding effort, once again with the support of the National Corn Growers Association, RFA worked with several companies to work through the complicated application process. All companies that RFA worked with were awarded their grant request from USDA and, as a result, we will see eight companies install more than 100 new dispensers at over 20 sites across six states: 30 each in Iowa and Florida, 21 in Nebraska, 10 in Wisconsin, 8 in South Dakota and 6 in Missouri. We secured nearly $3 million in funding that will be matched with approximately $9 million by the retailers, bringing almost $12 million in infrastructure for higher blends to the marketplace.

HBIIP is a $100 million grant program; all together, RFA has helped 33 companies gain grants in 21 states for $24 million in USDA funding matched by $40 million in retailer funding for a total of $64 million in new higher blends infrastructure. This will add over 1,200 new dispensers at 244 locations.

The advent of electric vehicles and the accelerated pace of their support by policymakers will no doubt bring big changes to the fuel marketplace in the years ahead. Offering consumers at the pump a lower-carbon choice that is readily available and already trusted by them should be an important consideration as retailers seek to improve their properties and their infrastructure.  

As always, the Renewable Fuels Association stands ready to assist. Just recently, we took part in an episode of the “Carpool Chat” podcast of the Fuels Institute, to talk about how conventional ethanol has nearly half the carbon footprint of conventional gasoline and is able to use much of today's retail infrastructure.