E-15 ethanol blend makes debut in Nebraska

Source: By ART HOVEY / Lincoln Journal Star • Posted: Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Lexington service station has become the first in the state to sell an E-15 ethanol blend.

Neal Hoff of Uncle Neal’s Phillips 66 called it “the fuel of the future for automobiles” and a logical choice for his customers.

“We put in blender pumps,” Hoff said Tuesday, “and they were active by Friday night. And by Saturday night, yes, we had sales.”

The Environmental Protection Agency approved E-15 for use in vehicles 2001 and newer in June.

To Hoff, the EPA stance means that “85 percent of the cars out there can use it. And it just seems logical that what’s going to happen eventually is that we’ll migrate from E-10 to E-15. And we’re on the front end of that.”

If consumers go along with a move to a higher ethanol blend nationally, it could boost overall demand and help the industry get over a so-called “blenders wall” in which the government mandate for E-10 use as a renewable fuel has been met.

Hoff is selling E-15 a nickel cheaper than E-10 and 15 cents cheaper than regular unleaded.

Speaking from his Hastings office, Hoff said he hasn’t decided yet whether to add E-15 at his nine other locations in Nebraska. “This is the first one where we’re attempting to offer E-15.”

In a prepared statement, Kim Clark of the Nebraska Corn Board said the marketing breakthrough in the state was “a long time coming” and the result of clearing several regulative hurdles.

Hoff used a blender pump grant from the Corn Board to become the first E-15 outlet.

Nebraska is the second largest producer of ethanol in the United States behind Iowa.

Steve Sorum of the Nebraska Ethanol Board said the decision to change fuel choices is not an easy one for the typical retailer.

“It’s been a situation where dealers have looked very closely at it and making decisions based on the (underground) tank space available for new product,” Sorum said. “And that’s been one of the largest impediments to rapid deployment. In fact, it’s probably the primary one.”

By using a flex-fuel pump to dispense E-15, Hoff also can reach out to drivers of flex-fuel vehicles capable of using up to 85 percent ethanol blends.

Newer vehicles without the flex-fuel designation are limited to 15 percent ethanol.

It remains to be seen what else the federal government might do to broaden the E-15 standard.

Besides the ban on using it in older cars, E-15 can be used in Nebraska and in other northern markets only on a seasonal basis.

That’s because federal regulators relax a vapor pressure requirement when the weather gets colder.

In Hoff’s area, he has to wait until Sept. 15 to make E-15 available.

“It gets quite complicated,” he said, “and you have to do a lot of things to make sure you’re doing it correctly.”

Sorum agrees with Hoff that market penetration will improve.

“The initial phase of E-15 sales in the country that EPA has allowed is based on literally years of testing,” he said. “The testing continues and the ethanol industry and many automobile experts insist it’s both a very safe and effective fuel.”

He conceded that some automobile manufacturers aren’t on board. “So that’s where EPA is right now.”