Timid Predictions and Bold Vision

By Ron Lamberty | February 22, 2012

E15 will not be commercially available for widespread use by March. How do I know? 

Well, I don’t. But over the past year or so, when it seemed like E15’s arrival to a convenience store near you was imminent, some of us in the ethanol industry got excited and said publically that we expected it to be available “soon,” “sometime this (insert season here),” “by late in the next quarter,” or some other non-specific yet not-so-far-off timeframe. We were wrong. Every time. Powerful forces conspired to make all of us look bad.

So I now predict that E15 is not going to happen this March. I could point to reasons like EPA waiting until it makes CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) and/or Tier 3 decisions, the futility of finally making E15 available at a time when the impending low-RVP (Reid vapor pressure) season will make it virtually impossible to use until fall, but I’m not going to do that. We’re just not going to see E15 in March. Mark it down.

Go ahead, Powerful Forces, make me look bad again. Prove me wrong.  I dare ya.

On a serious note, March is a time to remember a friend of ethanol. March 26 marks the sixth anniversary of ethanol’s first appearance as the fuel of a major motorsport series—the Indy Racing League—on a day that will always be remembered instead as the day we lost one of ethanol’s most dynamic promoters and spokesmen, Paul Dana.

When it came to ethanol and racing, Paul used to talk about people who “get it.”

“It” wasn’t about selling ethanol to racers. If every racer in the country used ethanol, in a year we wouldn’t use two weeks output from even a single average ethanol plant.

And although motorsports are the number one spectator sport in America, “it” isn’t really about selling ethanol to racing fans, either. As big as racing is, there are a lot more people who don’t know the IRL from NASCAR from the World of Outlaws. About 35 million Americans watch some part of the Daytona 500 every year—meaning about 265 million Americans don’t.

“It” is all about image. “It” is the old marketing truism: “perception is reality.”

If ethanol is perceived as a cheap substitute for gasoline, it IS a cheap substitute for gasoline. And with that perception comes all of the concerns that accompany “cheapness.”

On the other hand, the real “reality” is that ethanol is a clean-burning, all-American, high-octane motor fuel. Paul Dana knew that the sight of cars whizzing around a track, powered by ethanol, could change the perception of our fuel. By having the IRL, and now NASCAR, use ethanol in extreme race conditions, we demonstrate power and reliability, and we learn about any weakness of the fuel—if any weaknesses ever appear … 

Paul Dana knew “it” wasn’t about him, the IRL or even racing. It was an opportunity for the ethanol industry to “shift gears,” and promote ethanol for what it IS, instead of what it is not. Racing shows people ethanol is a high-octane performance fuel, and gives us the opportunity to drive home other benefits. 

The best list is still the one that was written on the side of Paul’s first IRL car. It said simply: “Ethanol: Clean. American. Renewable.”

“Cheap” was nowhere to be found.

Author: Ron Lamberty
Senior Vice President,
American Coalition for Ethanol
(605) 334-3381