Companies building around ethanol’s new brand

The introduction of E15 into the U.S. fuel marketplace is gaining critical mass This column appears in the September issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine.
By Tom Bryan | August 22, 2016

The introduction of E15 into the U.S. fuel marketplace is gaining critical mass. With several top-20 fuel retailers now offering the new ethanol blend, and at least one major terminal operator selling it pre-blended, the fuel is finding its place under filling station canopies nationwide. We learn this month, however, that E15 is catching on despite low consumer awareness of it, good or bad. 

Our cover story, “The E15 Consumer Disconnect,” on page 24, examines the driver edification challenge and opportunity—cliché as that always sounds—in front of early E15 retailers. As EPM Managing Editor Susanne Retka Schill reports, recent polling suggests that most drivers don’t know exactly what E10 is. So, how are retailers supposed to get them excited about E15? It’s a question that’s being answered in a number of different ways. Giving in to consumer indifference toward ethanol, some retailers are dropping the “E” altogether in their marketing, going with names like Unleaded 15 and Regular 88, while others are calling it what it is—E15—to keep things straight. Ultimately, though, how we market E15 probably will matter much less to consumers than how we price it. If it’s a nickel cheaper than regular unleaded at the pump, it will sell.

It’s been said that E15’s widespread adoption will create an infrastructure glide path for the advent of higher ethanol blends like E25, E30 and E40. If that’s true, America’s existing 1,300 fuel terminals would need to undergo major changes to accommodate the nationwide distribution of ethanol for midlevel blends. In “Terminal Challenge,” on page 28, we look at a recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory study that determined U.S. terminal capacity is essentially maxed out, and too many terminals are confined to truck transport and unable to accommodate ethanol unit trains. As EPM Associate Editor Ann Bailey reports, however, a number of terminal construction and expansion projects are underway. That’s good news, but the NREL report makes is clear that future ethanol distribution and storage infrastructure requirements must be addressed today.

On page 32, we switch gears and look at the fast side of our business in “King of the Corn Drag Racing.” In this story, Bailey reports on a historic milestone achieved in late July when an E98-powered car won the first street car drag race at the inaugural Ethanol Nationals in Kearney, Nebraska. All the cars in the event were fueled on ethanol blends ranging from E50 to E98. It was a big day for event organizer and ethanol racing pioneer Dan Schwartzkopf, who tells us consumer questions about E15, if they have any, disappear when they see race cars running on high and midlevel blends.

Author: Tom Bryan
President & Editor in Chief