High Octane Fuel Summit promotes the benefits of ethanol to fuel retailers
The Indiana Corn Growers Association (ICGA) hosted its annual High Octane Fuel Summit in Indianapolis on Sept. 16. The Summit is designed to tout the benefits of higher blends of ethanol fuel to fueling station retailers and similar stakeholders. More than 50 of those stakeholders attended the event to learn more about Unleaded 88, a blend of 15 percent ethanol, and E85, an 85 percent ethanol blend. The expansion of ethanol is crucial to Indiana’s corn farmers.
“Ethanol is one of the most important customers of corn farmers,” said ICGA President Mike Beard, a corn and soybean farmer from Frankfort, Ind. “Here in Indiana, a multi-year average of 45 percent of our corn goes to the production of ethanol, and the numbers are similar in many other corn-producing states. The ethanol produced with U.S.-grown corn is used both domestically and internationally. In the 2019-20 marketing year, the United States exported 1.36 billion gallons of ethanol.”
Beard said ICGA has been working on legislation such as the Next Generation Fuels Act, which was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives with bipartisan support – including Rep. Jim Baird (R-Ind.) who is a co-sponsor. Baird is also an original co-sponsor of the Year- Round Fuel Choice bill, which would allow year-round sales of 15 percent ethanol blended fuels. This proposal has a companion bill in the U.S. Senate. Both of these bills will bring more fuel choice to consumers and help to lower greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, Beard reported.
“I’m proud to say that the Indiana Corn Growers Association has supported a number of bills in Congress this session that would increase ethanol’s space in the tank,” he said.
High Octane Fuel Summit speakers included Chris Bliley of Growth Energy, Tuomo Isokivijarvi and Juha Honkasalo of eFlexFuel, Dr. Steffen Mueller of the Energy Resources Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Debnil Chowdhury of IHS Markit, retail trends analyst Todd Hale and ICGA staff.
Operating throughout Europe and based in Finland, eFlex- Fuel builds and sells kits that allow motorists to convert their cars to flex-fuel vehicles that are able to use E85. Tuomo Isokivijarvi, CEO of eFlexFuel, said they have sold more than 30,000 conversion kits in Europe, and they are now moving to the American market. He said the kits are simple to install and are completely automatic. To sell their kits, eFlexFuel is educating the public about the benefits of using E85.
“We are going to do educational marketing about using E85,” Isokivijarvi said.
“We know there are people who have a negative image of flex-fuels and E85. We want to change that,” said Juha Honkasalo, eFlexFuel’s Chief of Business Development. “E85 is an affordable race fuel for the streets that is available throughout the U.S. People need to learn about it.”
Among the chief competitors for higher blends of ethanol is the emergence of electric vehicles (EVs). Debnil Chowdhury of IHS Markit, an international market research company, said EV use is growing in some areas, but that liquid fuels continue to dominate the market. He said places such as India and South America are not seeing penetration of new electric vehicles. “We’re not one of the bullish companies on EV demand in the short term,” Chowdhury said. “We are actually seeing more of an increase in hybrid electric vehicles – cars that can run on both gasoline, ethanol and electricity.”
He said demand for gasoline, and ethanol, in the United States will decline as more motorists shift to electric vehicles. “We don’t necessarily listen to what President Biden is saying or what Congress is telling us,” Chowdhury explained. “We look at what auto manufacturers are saying and what consumer demand tells us.”
He said that there may be opportunities for ethanol in jet fuel production; however, ethanol’s place in the market will be impacted by increased EV sales. “We expect to see production peak and start falling sometime in the 2030s,” Chowdhury said.
Growth Energy is a U.S. trade association based in Washington, D.C. working to advance pro-biofuel policies and expand consumer access to higher blends of ethanol. Chris Bliley, Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs for Growth Energy, told Summit attendees that access to Unleaded 88 has been expanding rapidly in recent years. Unleaded 88 is gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol – also called E15. In 2017, only five terminals across the country offered E15. Bliley said there are 247 terminals offering E15 today.
However, a recent court decision eliminated the year-round sale of Unleaded 88 throughout most of the country. This is a reversal of a Trump Administration policy that allowed year-round sales of the 15 percent ethanol-blended fuel. “We need to work to get year-round E15 (also known as Unleaded 88) approved before the summer driving season starts again on June 1, 2022,” Bliley said. “This can have a very real impact on the amount of ethanol that is consumed.”
Retail trends analyst Todd Hale, who owns and operates Todd Hale LLC, talked about trends that fueling stations may see in the future. Hale said the COVID-19 pandemic impacted sales at fueling stations for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was fewer cars on the road. He said 2,445 retail convenience stores closed in 2020. However, Hale added that this broke a trend because more than 10,000 new retail stations have opened nationally since 2005.
He said larger, brand-name fueling chains continued to add stores in 2020, while smaller, independent stores were closing. Each of the top 10 convenience store chains added stores in 2020. Hale also said convenience stores showed increased sales during 2020 as consumers didn’t want to go to larger stores or groceries to buy staple items.
Finally, he said convenience stores may want to watch what many fast-food restaurants are doing. As a result of COVID-19 restrictions, many restaurants are building “drive through-only” stores. He said this is because consumers want to have as little contact with restaurant staff as possible “Drive-through retail is going to have a major, long-term impact,” Hale explained.
The High Octane Fuel Summit was sponsored by the American Lung Association, Family Express, Indiana Ethanol Producers Association, Cardinal Ethanol and the Indiana Corn Marketing Council.