OPINION: 20 billion miles and counting

By Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy | March 09, 2021

After a tough year marked by unprecedented challenges, the biofuel sector is hitting the ground running with exciting progress on higher ethanol blends. Just this month, Growth Energy was pleased to announce that the retail market has hit a major new milestone – 20 billion miles driven on E15.

It’s a testament to the continued success of E15 at the pump. Even as the nation grappled with a pandemic and drivers stayed parked under stay-at-home orders, the number of retail sites grew by 10 percent, bringing E15 to more than 2,300 stations across 30 states. As stakeholders saw during Growth Energy’s “E15 Expressway: Web Chats with Retailers” series last year, major retailers like Casey’s, Thorntons, Kwik Trip/Kwik Star, Kum & Go, Murphy USA, Sheetz, Pump & Pantry, Protec Fuel, and Family Express have all embraced the opportunity to offer an increasingly popular option that lends a competitive edge to any location.

Most importantly, American drivers are showing they will keep coming back for a fuel that not only holds down costs, but also protects our air and our climate.

Major distributors are increasingly getting in the game too. With nearly 220 terminals and a number of major suppliers offering pre-blended E15, smaller and mid-sized operators no longer have to blend on site, reducing the barrier to entry. Most recently, one major distributor, Magellan, announced E15 would be offered as a “house recipe,” which means lower costs and higher returns for our retail partners. And now, with vaccines making the rounds and motorists returning to the roads, that growth is poised to accelerate faster than ever.

As regular readers know, opening new markets for E15 is at the heart of Growth Energy’s mission. To match the growing demand, Growth Energy is expanding as well, welcoming two new regional directors to help grow E15’s footprint, educate new retailers, and assist with the adoption of the top low-cost, low-carbon fuel choice. On average, our retail partners sell between 2.2 to 2.5 million fuel gallons per year, which amounts to over 200 percent more fuel gallons per year than the average retailer.

It’s worth noting that these partnerships aren’t just important at home – they are key to bringing higher blends to foreign markets, where ethanol is vital to meeting air quality, climate, and human health goals. Top retailers like Sheetz, Protec Fuel, and Casey’s have joined us for global conferences and trade missions around the world, offering testimonials on the market success of E15 to foreign leaders contemplating the addition or expansion of ethanol use. These international efforts are critical to showcasing biofuels as the premiere climate and human health solution – one that is available today, compatible with our existing auto fleet, and affordable for communities around the world.

We’re also working closely with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to lift onerous labeling requirements on E15 and limits on the use of existing infrastructure for higher blends. As these issues are addressed, more retailers will have the freedom they need to fully unleash the power of year-round E15. Best of all, the transition to nationwide sales promises to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 17.62 million tons per year, equal to removing approximately 3.85 million vehicles from the road.

As we look to the year ahead, there are even more market-moving developments on the horizon, especially when it comes to infrastructure. Under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Higher Blend Infrastructure Incentive Program (HBIIP), Growth Energy has already helped to secure over $32 million in grants for updated infrastructure at nearly 300 retail sites selling more than 400 million gallons of gasoline annually.

At the same time, retailers like Casey’s General Store are raising the bar for the competition by making Unleaded 88 the new standard option at more and more locations – a simple switch that promises to set a new trend across major markets.

Thanks to these and other developments, 2021 is shaping up to be a game-changer for America’s biofuel sector. The demand curve continues to trend upwards, with motorists logging more miles on E15 faster than ever. So while we’re celebrating 20 billion miles on E15 today, it’s a milestone that we look forward to putting in the rearview mirror at a record pace.