In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion around E15 and whether it can be feasibly implemented. However, many have fought these speculations, including Ron Lamberty, Senior Vice President of the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE). “Rumors of E15’s impossibility and high equipment cost have been greatly exaggerated,” Lamberty said earlier this year.

From infrastructure improvements to retail adoption to broader use in automotive sports, 2015 has been an important year for E15 and the renewable fuels sector.

E15 in infrastructure

In May 2015, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) worked with the Renewable Fuels Association in creating a comprehensive report on E15 and infrastructure. The report included a detailed study of the compatibility of E15 (15% denatured ethanol and 85% gasoline blendstock) in all related equipment, and debunked many myths around the topic. The report has received a great deal of positive attention, and its findings were cited at important conferences this year, including the American Coalition for Ethanol Conference.

In addition to studying existing fuel dispensing infrastructure components, NREL and RFA examined literature from the past 15 years to find out if any negative impacts were cited during the nationwide, multi-year implementation of E10. The report ultimately concluded that, “No incidents of E10 causing releases (also referred to as leaks) from UST systems were identified.”

The study itself found that safety testing standards have been changing significantly over the past decade and now include testing with fuel blends containing more than 10% ethanol by volume, meaning more equipment is compatible with E15 than previously thought.

An article from DomesticFuel.com shows the importance of the findings, “The report also addresses several misperceptions about E15 including that it is safe to store the ethanol blend in tanks.” The report states:

…this assumption is incorrect as the majority of installed tanks can store blends above E10. For many decades, underground storage tank (UST) manufacturers approved their tanks for blends up to E100, for example, all steel tanks and double-walled fiberglass tanks since the year 1990.

Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, shared his thoughts on the study, including that it is, “Both timely and relevant to the current debate about the so-called ‘blend wall’ that some would like to use to limit the growth opportunities for ethanol under the RFS … Clearly, the constraints to the increased use of E15 have more to do with the recalcitrance of refiners and marketers than they do any real infrastructure barriers.”

Finally, the report includes a review completed with each storage tank manufacturer on their products’ compatibility with ethanol blends. It provides an extensive list of all E15 and E15+ compatible equipment available today allowing station owners to compare their equipment records against the compatibility list to determine if there is a need to update or upgrade any equipment to sell E15.

These findings, as well as the retail fueling equipment manufacturer’s compatibility statements are clear and readily accessible to anyone with questions about certain equipment and fuel blends.

Since May, this report has become a go-to resource for any fuel retailer looking to assess their fueling systems before offering E15, saving money and time, as well as encouraging the increased implementation of E15. “This study demonstrates that most retailers will not be required to break concrete and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to offer E15,” said Dinneen.

E15 in retail

In addition to the NREL/RFA report, E15 saw a major bump in retail availability in the U.S. 2 major privately held retailers, Sheetz, Inc. and Kum & Go LC, increased their E15 offerings this year.

On January 20, 2015, Sheetz Convenience Stores announced in a press release that they would be offering an E15 fuel option to North Carolina customers. According to Sheetz, “Ethanol burns cleaner and cooler in engines, which helps with the performance of the vehicle, while also considered better for the environment and priced competitively to conventional gas options.”

Michael Lorenz, EVP Petroleum and Supply for Sheetz, said, “E15 is another way for us to give our customers a new alternative fuel option.”

On April 27, 2015, Kum & Go, an industry leader in introducing alternative fuels, announced that it would begin offering E15 as a fuel option. The press release stated, “Since ethanol is cleaner and has a higher octane content than gasoline, E15 reduces the number of pollutants in fuel and produces less carbon emissions than regular gasoline. In addition, E15 is typically the less expensive option at the pump.”

“We have a strong tradition in our company to implement sustainability within our business and at our locations,” said vice president of fuels for Kum & Go, Jim Pirolli.

According to a national report from Convenience Store News, by the end of 2016, Sheetz plans to offer E15 at 60 North Carolina locations and Kum & Go will offer the fuel at 65 locations across 7 states. The article also named Murphy USA Inc. as another retail chain planning to add E15 fueling locations in the near future.

These retailers’ additions will add over 120 E15 stations, more than doubling the number of locations offering fuel that is not only cheaper, but also contains a higher ethanol content than the standard E10 blend. And there is more growth on the horizon.

A May 2015 article in The Gazette noted that, “If retailers continued to add stations at a similar pace over the next five years, there would be some 1,300 stations offering E15.”

“Until now, the conversation around E15 was: why in the world would you have that?” said John Eichberger, Executive Director of the National Association of Convenience Stores’ Fuels Institute. “Now, it’s that there may be a reason, an economic incentive.”

That economic incentive is $15 billion dollars. In a Reuters article, commodities and renewable fuels reporter, Chris Prentice, gave evidence as to how economic incentives are now driving the transition to E15 even further.

According to Aakash Doshi, vice president of Citigroup New York, it may take some time before E15 takes off, but the market is growing. Based on 2014 E10 consumption, Doshi estimated that the adoption of E15 would boost ethanol (fuel) consumption by 40%. Ultimately, if E10 is replaced by E15, oil firms would lose around $15 billion to ethanol producers in the motor fuel market.

E15 in sports and entertainment: The 7 million mile mark

While we are seeing an increasing appearance of E15 in both retail and infrastructure in the U.S., there is one industry that has been using E15 for a while. In 2011, NASCAR began using E15 in its top 3 national series, and as of this year, NASCAR has exceeded 7 million miles of racing on ethanol blends.

NASCAR made the fuel switch as a part of their NASCAR Green Platform, a combination of the largest and most comprehensive tree planting, recycling and renewable energy programs in sports today. This February, every single car that participated in the Daytona 500 was powered by E15.

Dr. Michael Lynch, Vice President of NASCAR Green Innovation and STEM Platforms, said, “NASCAR has shown under the most demanding competition that E15 is safe, reliable and it works.”

In addition, Richard Childress, Chairman and CEO of Richard Childress Racing, has said that the implementation of the fuel has improved the performance of the race cars and increased horsepower.

“Since this change took place, we have seen increased horsepower from a higher-octane ethanol fuel blend and decreased emissions,” said Childress, “In our own internal tests at RCR, we used ethanol blends up to E30 and found no issues with that fuel, either.”

With millions of loyal fans, NASCAR has been instrumental in helping show consumers that E15 is a safe, high performance fuel that will not only reduce emissions, but also save them money at the pump.

“NASCAR fans are 80% more likely than non-fans to support the use of ethanol blends in their own car on the street, because they understand that NASCAR and our diligent race teams did our homework from the start with thousands of miles and hours of testing,” said Dr. Lynch.

The future of E15

2015 has been a big year for ethanol blends in the U.S., but it is important to remember that there are countries that have been working on increasing ethanol blends for years. Brazil has long surpassed the United States in national blend percentage. Since May 2013, Brazil has had a mandatory blend of 25% ethanol and 75% gasoline.

In a series of announcements earlier this year, Brazil’s government once again pushed ethanol blends even higher. In January, the government decided to increase gasoline taxes, effective February 1, giving Brazil’s sugar and ethanol mills an improved outlook for the future. Shortly thereafter, Brazil’s government announced yet another expected increase in the national ethanol blend; it raised the mandatory blend to 27% on February 15.

Considering the NREL’s crucial E15 and Infrastructure Report, increased retail adoption of Sheetz and Kum & Go and the 7 Million Mile Mark, E15 adoption is becoming more a question of “when,” not “if.” Looking to Brazil as an indication of future possibilities, we have no doubt that there are great things on the horizon for E15 and the U.S. the ethanol industry. There is nowhere but up (E10, E15, E15+) from here.

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Evan V.

I'm a Social Media Specialist for Novozymes currently managing the Bioenergy team's social media presence. I like digital marketing, dark roast coffee, and disc golf.