RVP Season Ends, New Identity for E15 Begins

FROM THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE: Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor praises the organization's Prime the Pump initiative and the work it's done to brand E15.
By Emily Skor | August 16, 2018

September marks the end of the Reid vapor pressure (RVP) season that runs from June 1 to Sept. 15 and severely limits the summertime sale of E15 throughout most of the U.S. As I have often said, the biofuels industry is a shining example of a true American success story, and the rapid growth and expansion of E15 has been a landmark chapter in that story. Growth Energy’s leadership with the Prime the Pump program has seen us double the number of stations selling E15 for the past four consecutive years. Currently, we have over 1,400 retail locations selling E15 across the U.S., and we have secured commitments from more than 2,800 retail sites that will offer E15 by 2021, generating approximately 350 million new gallons of ethanol annually.

The progress we have made with E15 is despite an outdated regulation in the 1990 Clean Air Act that grants a 1 pound per square inch RVP waiver for evaporative emissions to fuel blended with 10 percent ethanol, in order to be sold in the summertime. That waiver was granted to E10 because EPA recognized that ethanol displaces toxic chemicals in gasoline while also significantly reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that far offset the added evaporative volatility. Unfortunately, when the law was written, higher blends including E15 had not yet been conceived of, and oil interests are doing all they can to ensure these blends do not receive equal waiver treatment to E10.

And yet, more than 5 billion consumer miles have been driven on E15 and more leading retailers are adding it to their fuel portfolios because they recognize the competitive advantage of carrying a higher-octane fuel that they can sell for 5 to 10 cents per gallon less than E10. But the RVP issue remains a constant thorn in the side for consumers, retailers and indeed the biofuels industry.

Estimates based on sales, projected sales and growth of our current Prime the Pump retailers show that obtaining immediate year-round RVP relief for E15 would deliver 1.3 billion gallons of new ethanol demand in the next five years. The potential for growth is immense.

Leading the charge for RVP relief is a primary mission of our association and our entire industry, but it is not the only weapon in our arsenal. For the past three years, Growth Energy has worked with our retail partners to better understand how and why consumers make the choices they do at the pump – with the end goal of increasing E15 sales. Through over 4,000 qualitative and quantitative surveys, field tests at over 350 locations in key states, and analyzing over 300,000 transactions, we discovered that the identity, the name itself—E15—was holding us back.

Working in lockstep with the Prime the Pump board to uncover the most effective name, visual identity and messaging for fuel blended with 15 percent ethanol, our data show that an “unbranded” strategy delivers the greatest lift in sales. Rather than position E15 as a niche product, we need E15 to become the new normal at the pump to ensure continued widespread adoption that in turn paves the way for market acceptance of even higher blends.

Prime the Pump retailers are coalescing around this unbranded strategy to market E15 as Unleaded 88/Regular 88, depending on each retailer’s current fuel marketing guidelines, because our research has shown that when E15 is treated more like any other fuel, consumers reach for it. Rather than focusing on the ethanol content (what our industry cares about), the unbranded strategy focuses on the octane value proposition that ethanol delivers to consumers because, first and foremost, the fuel purchase is about value for performance. Secondary are added societal benefits such as fewer toxic emissions and cleaner air. We are using hard data, science and testing to continue to push the envelope for American biofuels and reintroduce ethanol to consumers across the country. With RVP season in the rearview mirror, you will start to see leading retailers roll out Unleaded 88/Regular 88 as the marketing for E15 at their pumps. This is an important step for the industry, and we are thrilled to work with our retail partners to write the next chapter of this great American success story.

Author: Emily Skor
CEO, Growth Energy