E-15 ethanol gets market boost

Source: Written by Peter Harriman, Argus Leader • Posted: Monday, January 20, 2014

Supporters see promise in decision by Southeast chain to offer it

Ethanol industry proponents hope history repeats itself as the newest biofuel blend approved for most vehicles seeks to gain a foothold in the Southeast.

Mapco Express has announced it will offer E-15 ethanol this year in as many as 100 large convenience stores it operates in seven states, mostly in the South.

“Our focus for this program is our larger-format stores. The larger stores are in locations with higher traffic, and they have newer technology that lends itself to broader fueling options for our customers,” Mapco spokesman Keith Johnson said.

While the Environmental Protection Agency has approved E-15 — ethanol blended in a concentration of 15 percent alcohol to 85 percent gasoline — for vehicles built since 2002, the product has not been widely adopted. “We’ve been picking off places one at a time,” said Ron Lamberty, senior vice president for market development for the American Coalition for Ethanol. Most of the fuel retailers selling E-15 are small independent operators.

But that’s how it was when the original biofuel, E-10, began to find its place in the market, said Lamberty and Jeff Lautt, Poet CEO. South Dakota was a national leader in the adoption of ethanol, but most of the country was, at best, lukewarm to the product. In 2006, though, a big drop in ethanol prices compared to gasoline prompted some larger fuel retailers to begin selling it, and competitors were forced to fall in line, Lamberty said.

“That’s why a company like Mapco is important. They have multiple stores in multiple cities in multiple states. They influence a large area,” Lamberty said.

Although only as many as 100 will sell E-15 in the near term, Mapco has more than 470 gas stations.

“To have a larger mid-size retailer like this make an announcement grabs attention,” Lautt said.

Optimistically, he adds, E-15’s market penetration could occur remarkably quickly. The ethanol industry is alive with rumors other retailers in addition to Mapco are considering E-15.

“We are hearing a lot of rumblings stations like this are making plans,” Lautt said. “Consumers can expect more of this to come as we go through 2014.”