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Let's make true fuel freedom a reality

Attending conferences has so many benefits. When I’m running dry on story ideas, my well fills back up. When I’m feeling the daily grind of doing my job, it re-energizes me.
By Holly Jessen | March 02, 2015

I’m glad I was able to attend this year’s National Ethanol Conference. I learned so much listening to the many speakers. I also scheduled several meetings during the event. Since I conduct so many interviews over the phone, it’s nice to speak to people face-to-face.

Prior to the conference, I received an email from someone with Fuel Freedom Foundation, asking for more information on the stories and blogs I have written about ethanol producers that sell E85 directly to retailers. (Some sell directly to consumers via pumps at the ethanol plant, too.) I answered their questions and asked a few of my own. The end result was a meeting in Texas, at the Renewable Fuels Association event.

Perhaps I’m not alone in not being previously aware of Fuel Freedom Foundation. Here’s what I learned from Joe Cannon, president and CEO, and Robin Vercruse, vice president of policy and program management. For one thing, the group provided funding for “Pump” the movie. While that’s just a small part of what they do, it caught my attention because I’ve written about the documentaries filmed by Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell in the magazine and in my blog. 

Founded by Joseph Hollander and Eyal Aronoff, Fuel Freedom Foundation believes fuel choice means more than just 87, 89 and 91 octane at the pump, Vercruse told me. The group is working with policymakers at the state and federal level in the hopes that, someday, consumers can choose from different types of fuels to put in the same car. Just two weeks before the RFA conference they had been to the White House for the seventh time. The group has also spent a lot of time meeting with the U.S. EPA and the DOE.

Long term, Fuel Freedom Foundation truly believes in an “all of the above” strategy, including electric vehicles. In the near term, the group believes one way to give consumers fuel choice is converting existing cars to use gas, ethanol or methanol, Cannon told me.  It’s estimated this would cost about $300 and Fuel Freedom Foundation has submitted such a vehicle to the EPA for consideration. While not every vehicle can be converted like this, about 250 million can, Cannon told me.

While at the RFA event, Cannon and Vercruse planned to talk to various contacts about the angle of direct sales from ethanol plants. Fuel Freedom Foundation is interested in doing demonstrations of this, in order to show that E85 can be priced attractively and, if so, will draw the attention of drivers. If E85 was available for 50 to 75 cents less, Cannon believes a lot more flex-fuel vehicle owners would buy it. “You will find that station and your neighbor will find that station,” he said, adding that E85 doesn’t currently appear to be priced based on what ethanol costs as an input. “We need to find out how to get lower priced ethanol at the pump.”

Cannon and Vercruse didn’t get into the details of exactly what they meant by demonstrations but, whatever it is, I hope that the end result is more ethanol producers selling directly to retailers. A small group of ethanol producers are showing that it’s a good way to get more gallons of ethanol to consumers at better price. It’s the most effective method I’m aware of for ethanol producers to show that the blend wall only exists in the minds of politicians and the hopes and dreams of the petroleum industry. 

I can't wait to hear more about what Fuel Freedom Foundation does in the future. Now that I have heard of them, I'll be watching closely, especially to find out what happens with the car the group submitted to EPA and possible demonstrations of attractively priced E85. Personally, I think the group sounds like a great partner in the fight to wrestle market share away from the petroleum industry.