OPINION: A new focus on infrastructure

By Cassie Mullen, director of market development at the Renewable Fuels Association | February 04, 2020

Following a highly successful 2015 biofuels infrastructure program that invested $210 million to expand the availability of biofuels and strengthen the rural economy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has now announced the creation of a new Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program, or HBIIP.  With rising demand for E15 , the announcement of this new program is perfectly timed. 

In the original Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership program, often referred to as BIP, USDA partnered with 21 states to nearly double the number of fueling pumps nationwide that supply higher renewable fuel blends to American motorists. USDA’s Farm Service Agency received applications requesting more than $130 million, outpacing the $100 million available. With matching funds from private and state resources, USDA estimated that the BIP grants would support the installation of nearly 5,000 pumps at over 1,400 fueling stations across the country. This project ended in 2018, and today nearly 2,000 stations are selling E15.  

Through BIP, the Renewable Fuels Association worked with multiple retailers throughout the country to successfully secure funding.  We were especially proud to be a part of bringing the first E15 stations to Missouri, home of RFA’s headquarters. Because of the BIP initiative, St. Louis-based Home Service Oil debuted E15 along with E85 at several of their locations in 2018.  

USDA is in the process of fleshing out the details on the new HBIIP program and recently sought public input to help with the creation of this new initiative. The agency has expressed great interest in hearing from stakeholders about lessons learned and the strengths and weaknesses of the original BIP program.

“Feedback from farmers, retailers and biofuels producers is critical to the success of this future program,” Agriculture Secretary Perdue said. “Under the leadership of President Trump, USDA remains committed to fulfilling a key promise to American farmers to enhance the promotion of biofuels."

Expanding the sale of biofuels will provide consumers with more choices when they fill up at the pump, including environmentally friendly fuel with decreased emissions, driving demand for our farmers and improving the air we breathe.

RFA has weighed in extensively on the new HBIIP program during meetings with the agency and with written comments. We are excited about the potential of this initiative to rapidly expand the availability of lower-cost E15 and other higher blends. RFA has discussed the new program with dozens of marketers and retailers, resulting in a letter of support being sent directly to USDA from 35 companies in 21 states whom collectively control 2,880 retail sites.

Unlike the previous program, which focused largely on retail only, with the new HBIIP, USDA has broadened its scope and seeks guidance from the public on a wide range of infrastructure options, such as retail fueling stations, convenience stores, hypermarket fueling stations, fleet facilities, and similar entities with capital investments; equipment providers, equipment installers, certification entities and other stakeholder/manufacturers (both upstream and down); fuel distribution centers, including terminals and depots; and those performing innovative research, and/or developing enabling platforms and applications in manufacturing, energy production, and agriculture.

As before with the original BIP program, RFA stands ready to continue working with USDA and retailers, marketers, terminal operators and others across the country to make the new HBIIP program a resounding success.