Blender pumps increase; boom prompts EPA caution

By Anna Austin | October 06, 2008
The proliferation of blender pumps, particularly in Kansas and Iowa, is giving consumers more access to higher-level blends. However, the increase has also caused some confusion on blending practices, which was quickly addressed by the U.S. EPA

In Kansas, the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council, the state Corn Commission and ICM Inc. announced a statewide initiative Aug. 18 to launch a blender pump program. The announcement followed an ethanol promotion event in Colwich, Kan., at TJ's Convenience Store, which offered discounts on E10, E20, E30 and E85 blends.

The major initiative of the program is to help fuel station retailers obtain funding and equipment needed to sell higher blends of ethanol. Currently, there are four blender pumps in Kansas, courtesy of a pilot program supported by the state Department of Agriculture. The various groups hope to increase the state's blender pump infrastructure by installing a minimum of 100 blender pumps over the next year. "Our program will help strengthen our economy by encouraging blender pump infrastructure development and take us one step closer to lessening our dependence on foreign oil," said Kansas Corn Commission Chairman Bob Timmons.

In Iowa, WestMor Industries LLC installed the state's first blender pump at Galva Holstein Ag LLC in Galva, Iowa, at the end of August. Galva Holstein Ag was awarded a grant from Iowa's Renewable Fuel Infrastructure Board in June, which covered nearly half of the pump and installation costs. Corey Poppe, a spokesman for WestMor Industries, said that by the end of the summer, the company plans to install three more blender pumps in Holstein, Manning and Sibley, Iowa. In early September, two unrelated blender pumps opened in Olds and Rock Rapids, Iowa.

The recent blender pump boom, although a positive development for the ethanol industry and flexible-fuel vehicle (FFV) owners, has caught the attention of the EPA. In late July, the EPA issued a letter in response to questions raised by Bob Greco, director of downstream and industry operations at the American Petroleum Institute. In the letter, the EPA addressed self-directed blender pumps at retail outlets and the risks involved when using fuel blends containing more than 10 percent ethanol. "Gasoline containing more than 10 percent ethanol may cause damage to certain emissions control devices and systems, and increase emissions from gasoline-only vehicles and engines," the letter stated. "For this reason, the Clean Air Act prohibits retail gasoline stations from selling gasoline blended with more than 10 percent ethanol for use in gasoline-only vehicles." The EPA said steps will be taken to investigate retail distribution of noncompliant fuel.