Latest EPA Waiver Gives E15 Much-Needed Traction

Retailers are beginning to climb onboard. Now the biggest hurdle is convincing consumers ethanol is safe for their vehicles.

Published on: Feb 24, 2012

With the 2011 waiver approval from the EPA, E15 can be used in any car 2001 or newer. This represents approximately 65% of the automobiles on the road.

More importantly, Kristy Moore, vice president technical services for the Renewable Fuels Association, says these cars represent 82% of the actual miles travelled. That's a good-sized chunk of U.S. fuel demand.

With the first waiver approval in 2010, the EPA certified E15 for use in model years 2007 and newer, or about 1/3 of the U.S. fleet. The new waiver approval is a big step forward in bringing retailers on board with E15.

E15 Panel: KAAPA Ethanol CEO Chuck Woodside leads a panel discussion on the hurdles of implementing E15 in the marketplace. From left: Woodside, retailer Scott Zaremba, retailer Grady Chronister and RFAs Kristy Moore.
E15 Panel: KAAPA Ethanol CEO Chuck Woodside leads a panel discussion on the hurdles of implementing E15 in the marketplace. From left: Woodside, retailer Scott Zaremba, retailer Grady Chronister and RFA's Kristy Moore.

Still, challenges abound. Moore says there is a lot of registration work that still needs to be done. A protocol for mitigating instances of "misfueling" needs to be formulated. Guidelines for blending feedstocks must be revisited. Moore says RFA is dedicated to being there every step of the way in addressing these issues with retailers.

On the retail end, Grady Chronister and Scott Zaremba agree the most pressing issue is consumer education. Zaremba owns nine Zarco 66 fueling stations across Kansas. Chronister owns 12 Qik-n-EZ fueling stations across central Illinois.

For most consumers an automobile is the second largest purchase they will make in their lifetime, Zaremba points out. "I think the consumer is open to any (fuel) that is o.k. (for their car)," Chronister adds. "They can't have any perception that this product could have a negative impact."

Notifying consumers that ethanol is green, affordable and one more step toward energy independence is all well and good, the retailers agree. However, step one must be that it is safe for their automobiles. Moore notes RFA has long identified this as a primary hurdle. She says many "shade-tree" mechanics still blame ethanol for any sort of automobile malfunction.

Once everything is in place, Chronister says he'll likely remove a mid- or premium-grade fuel and replace it with E15 at his fuel stations. He expects the boost in octane from blending 5% more ethanol will be a nice selling point.

Since E15 is drop-in replacement for over 60% of the U.S. fleet, Chronister will offer it at every pump. It doesn't make sense to put it alongside his E85 products, he says. "I can't have 65% of my customers waiting at one pump," he adds. "When you buy fuel, you don't make an appointment. It's at your convenience, not ours."

With the price benefits of ethanol in place, Chronister says he'd like to sell E15 at a 5-to10-cent reduction compared to E10. Hopefully the savings and octane boost will make it an easy sell.