OPINION: Taking your business beyond E10

By Robert White, vice president of industry relations, Renewable Fuels Association | May 05, 2021

Do you want to take your fuel retail operation to the next level and stand out from the competition? Success in differentiating yourself comes with looking at the trends now developing not just in the fuel marketplace or the transportation sector, but overall consumer attitudes.

Now, everyone’s talking about reducing carbon in the energy sector, and there is a lot of chatter about electric vehicles. But an EV world is a long way off, and you need to find ways to respond to this demand in such a way that you can move quickly. Pushing your business beyond E10 does that. By offering E15 or E85 Flex Fuel blends, or even a blender pump with blends in-between, you are helping clear the air and meet new demands of the 250 million vehicles already on the roads today

Recent polling conducted for the Renewable Fuels Association showed that voters are more likely to support requiring fuel suppliers to shrink the carbon footprint of the fuels they provide, than mandating that all new vehicles sold in the U.S. by 2035 be electric. People are not ready to surrender their vehicles yet to this new fad, but they do want to make sure their fuel aligns with their values. That’s why they also support a low-carbon fuel standard to help air quality and the environment.

Higher ethanol blends do just that, because ethanol itself has a much better environmental footprint than gasoline – cutting greenhouse gas emissions significantly, by nearly half, compared to gasoline. And emerging technologies promise to boost that reduction to around 70 percent in just the next few years, according to USDA. Further, by displacing hydrocarbon substances like aromatics in gasoline, ethanol helps reduce emissions of air toxics, along with particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and exhaust hydrocarbons. These pollutants cause smog and ground-level ozone and adversely affect human health. Cutting these emissions results in lower incidence of respiratory illness and asthma, heart disease, lung disease and cancer—and ultimately fewer premature deaths.

Nationally, just over 2,000 stations carry E15, and over 5,100 carry E85, so there is plenty of room for growth. How many of these stations are in your immediate marketplace? Expanding your fuel options means expanding your customer base. You will retain your current customers and earn new ones, whether through your own marketing or by word of mouth. Some stations are selling more overall gallons of E15 than E10 and E85 has been outpacing premium for years.

Need more convincing? Blending more low-cost ethanol into your mix means you can make more margin while also lowering the price drivers pay at the pump. That’s good news for you and your customers–and it won’t go unnoticed, as new customers will notice the price on the marquee and what’s in your store when they fill up, increasing overall in-store sales.

To put it in a nutshell, you could lose money by not offering these higher blends.

It’s also a great time to make the move. Over the past several months, USDA’s Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program—or HBIIP—provided millions in matching funds to help retailers and other install the infrastructure they needed for higher blends. As Washington debates massive infrastructure programs, efforts like HBIIP are being actively discussed, and they provide an opportunity to help you move your operation forward at a minimum investment. There are also several state and local funding programs for infrastructure to offer E15 and E85, and we can help you find them.

At the same time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing rules changes that could potentially modify their label requirement for E15 fuel dispensers and modify underground storage tank regulations to accommodate safe storage of E15 and higher gasoline-ethanol blends at retail stations’ existing tank systems.

Finally, know this. Moving forward in ethanol sales provides retailers a wealth of experience and knowledge from the agriculture sector and the ethanol industry, at the state and national level. You will have allies helping you in this effort, sharing best practices and helping on the technical, regulatory and marketing front. When you succeed, we succeed, and we want to make it work for you.

The Renewable Fuels Association has been active for 40 years now, helping communities across rural America, from the farmers who provide feedstock to our member ethanol plants to the retailers offering the fuel they produce.

Let’s explore this bright new low-carbon future together, and let’s start today.