Blog: Helping the one-off retailer

There ought to be a way to also support one-off retailers working in states without the sort of support provided by biofuel associations elsewhere.
By Susanne Retka Schill | August 29, 2016

The story in the September issue on the E15 disconnect struck a chord with many. Andres Aquino, founder of Omega Fuels in Philadelphia, called to say the challenge of educating consumers about ethanol has been his experience as well. Aquino is a big promoter of biofuels. In his career as a chemist, he was involved in testing biofuels, including at the North Pole. His interest grew into a passion and desire to promote biofuels by opening his own alternative fueling station. He says Omega Fuels is the only station in the Northeast to offer E15, and the only one in the nation to offer biodiesel, E15, E85 and racing ethanol under one canopy. 

“This hasn’t been an easy process by any means. Government requirements are much stricter when it comes to selling these fuels, especially here in Pennsylvania, and I had to comply with many more regulations than traditional gas stations,” he says. He has been frustrated with attempts to tap into grant programs. “In some cases, I was told that I didn’t qualify. In other cases, such as with the BIP grant, I was told that the funds were already allocated – to multimillion dollar companies,” he says. 

I'm sure there are other small retailers elsewhere like Acquino, who are worked hard to promote biofuels and feeling like they are doing so in a vacuum. Fortunately, there are several states in the Corn Belt with active associations helping retailers of all sizes, but I would guess that in the early years, many of those ran into similar hurdles to those that Acquino recounts.

I recall some of the stories I’ve heard from the biofuel pioneers. Minnesota and Iowa, for example, are both making solid progress today because of the efforts of determined individuals a decade or two ago who were stymied at every turn.  These are the biofuel pioneers we celebrate today. People who did things like what Aquino is doing now – meeting with PA Department of Environment Protection to discuss how programs could work better to spread the use of biofuels; working out an alliance with Ignite Racing Fuels to distribute racing fuels; calling industry leaders to grain support for his cause; and, using a tool not available to the Larry Johnsons waging the battle years ago, building an active presence in social media to promote biofuels and refute myths and false claims.

The situation for Omega Fuels in Pennsylvania illustrates a conundrum for the ethanol industry. Resources are limited, so it’s understandable that the industry strives to get the biggest bang for the buck with programs like Prime the Pump by targeting the biggest independent convenience store chains to promote E15. But there ought to be a way to also support one-off retailers like Aquino, working in states without the sort of support provided by biofuel associations elsewhere.