OPINION: ACE to focus on E15 compatibility of existing stations

By Ron Lamberty, senior vice president, American Coalition for Ethanol | September 02, 2020

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program (HBIIP) closed its application window August 13. In the months following USDA’s announcement of the program in May, ACE launched a series of short fuel-marketer focused video tutorials with USDA program staff walking through the application process and simplifying it so retailers could fill out the application themselves. ACE also broadened its digital advertising campaign to make retailers aware of the available dollars for installing new and upgrading existing equipment to sell E15 and flex fuels like E85.

During ACE’s summer campaign to promote USDA’s HBIIP, flexfuelforward.com web advertising made more than 5 million impressions on prospective retailers. The promotion garnered an overall click-through rate of more than eight times the national average, and other advertising on convenience store industry websites performed almost as well. In July alone, 15,534 people came to the HBIIP information and video page, with 192 flexfuelforward.com visitors heading from the site directly to the HBIIP application page.

We received HBIIP information requests from fuel marketers from Connecticut to California, introducing some retailers to ethanol supporters with funding for grant writing, while assisting others with answers to questions about the application process. We were happy to have a small part in helping a long-time Nebraska retailer partner apply to add 11 more E15 and flex fuel sites, and to assist San Diego E85 wholesaler Pearson Fuels with critical application information as they helped 21 California retailers apply for HBIIP funds to add E85 at their sites. Pearson recently announced their 200th E85 location, and they show no signs of slowing down. All by themselves, Pearson has added as much new annual ethanol volume as all the new E15 retailers added over the past five years.

At least three of the single-store or small chain retailers we referred to organizations providing grant writing assistance completed HBIIP applications. Unfortunately, many retailers we tried to walk through the HBIIP application found it too daunting and chose not to apply, and still others started, but simply weren't able to complete the complicated process. One Iowa marketer who started in mid to late July was still waiting for their CAGE code when the deadline passed. If there are future rounds of infrastructure funding from USDA, we will have to address those problems that are still keeping small retailers from benefiting from the grant programs.

The flexfuelforward.com program now set its “sites” on helping retailers understand they don't necessarily need government grants to add E15. Most current station equipment is likely already E15 compatible, and most tanks are compatible with up to 100 percent ethanol. Making sure station owners know what their equipment can do right now, and convincing more of them to do it, is the lowest cost way for us to sell a lot more ethanol in a short period of time. If we are going to move significant new volumes of ethanol in E15, it's going to be because massive numbers of retail units are converted, in addition to several hundred stations adding new fueling infrastructure with HBIIP dollars.

Retailers interested in more information about E15 and flex fuels, ethanol marketing and promotion, infrastructure, or logistics can contact me at ACE.