Homegrown E15 fuel catching on with consumers

Flex-fuel pumps offer drivers real choices when it's time to fill up.

Flex-fuel pumps offer drivers real choices when it’s time to fill up.

Fall in Minnesota means the leaves changing color, farmers harvesting their fields, comfortable weather and kids going back to school. It also means the return of E15 fuel – a cleaner-burning blend of 15 percent homegrown ethanol and 85 percent gasoline approved for use in vehicles 2001 and newer.

The benefits of using E15 include:

  • Cleaner air. According to a recent study by the Energy Resources Center, if just seven states switched to using E15 exclusively, it would remove 3.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which is the equivalent of taking about 700,000 cars off the road.
  • Savings at the pump. E15 typically costs 5-10 cents less per gallon than regular unleaded.
  • Better engine performance. E15 is an 88 octane fuel providing more vehicle horsepower than regular unleaded
  • It’s homegrown and local. By using a fuel with a higher ethanol blend, consumers are supporting a product grown and produced right here in Minnesota’s rural communities.

“As more drivers discover and begin using E15, demand continues to grow,” said Chad Willis, a farmer in Willmar who chairs the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council (MCR&PC). “Fuel station owners report that once customers try E15, they become customers for life. The environmental and economic benefits are very appealing.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Commerce, as of July 31, 2016, almost 3 million gallons of E15 were sold in Minnesota — nearly matching the total number of gallons sold in all of 2015.

Bringing E15 to Minnesota
A broad coalition of partners that included the Minnesota Corn Grower Association (MCGA) brought E15 to Minnesota in 2013. Since then, the coalition has supported the installation of 135 flex-fuel pumps at fueling stations like Minnoco, Holiday and Coborn’s throughout the state.

The flex-fuel pumps dispense a variety of fuels, giving consumers a choice among regular unleaded, E15, E30 (30 percent ethanol for use in flex-fuel vehicles) and E85 (85 percent ethanol for use in flex-fuel vehicles).

By 2017, MCGA expects to have supported the installation of over 600 flex-fuel pumps throughout the state.

“We know consumers want real choices at the pump and investing in E15 through flex-fuel pumps was the logical step to meet consumer demand and further strengthen the market for a renewable, home-grown fuel, a valuable market for our corn crop.” Willis said.

 Fighting regulatory burdens
When drivers fuel up with E15 during the summer months, they’re greeted by an ominous sticker on the pump that declares the fuel “for flex-fuel vehicles only.” Even though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved E15 for use in all vehicles model year 2001 or newer, the agency restricts its sales to flex-fuel vehicles from June 1 – Sept. 15 due to Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) regulations. RVP measures how quickly fuel evaporates and is regulated to control the amount of ozone precursors that form in the summertime.

Regular unleaded fuel, which contains 10 percent ethanol, has a RVP waiver that allows it to be sold year-round. Even though E15 has a lower (less harmful) RVP than regular unleaded fuel, it has not been granted the same waiver.

“It’s an unnecessary regulatory hurdle,” said Noah Hultgren, MCGA President and a farmer in Raymond, Minn. “All it does is limit fuel choice for the consumer and prevent them from saving money at the pump.”

This illogical RVP regulation often makes retailers reluctant to offer E15.  Legislative efforts have been ongoing to help remove barriers for retailers to offer E15 year-round to consumers.

Gov. Mark Dayton also joined six other Midwestern governors today in urging EPA to eliminate the RVP hurdle to E15 and other mid-level ethanol blends.

In a letter to EPA, Dayton and other Midwestern governors note that they “share common goals of eliminating unnecessary regulatory barriers, strengthening the free market, and expanding consumer choice by increasing access to E15 and higher ethanol blends.”

 A grassroots effort
While the RVP restrictions are a genuine obstacle, it’s not stopping MCGA from continuing its work to grow the use of E15. With the RVP restrictions ending on Sept. 15, MCGA and its retailer partners are making a push to get even more drivers to try E15.

Minnoco retailers will be running an E15 Hope Chest Breast Cancer pink out promotion from (Sept. 16-Oct.31). Coborn’s and Little Duke’s will run E15 promotions at 11 locations from Sept. 19-29. The events entice consumers to try a tank of E15 at discounted prices. Station owners and Minnesota’s corn farmers gain an opportunity to talk about the fuel directly with consumers.

“We’re at the pumps, filling people’s tanks and answering their questions about ethanol,” said Dan Erickson, a farmer in Alden, Minn., who serves as a regional representative for MCGA. “You’d be surprised at some of the questions we receive. But if we’re not there to answer those questions, the driver might not be willing to give E15 or a higher ethanol-blended fuel a try. It’s a very grassroots way to market.”

More details on the promotions can be found at www.mncorn.org. For more information on ethanol fuels and where to find flex-fuel pumps, go to www.mnfuels.com.

Did you like this article?

Share this post with your friends!