More pumps needed to deliver biofuels

Source: By JAN KONINCKX, DuPont Biofuels Director, Des Moines Register • Posted: Monday, June 8, 2015

We all know Texas refines more oil than any other state. But imagine what would happen if there were not enough trucks, trains and pipelines available to transport these billions of gallons to market. We’d call that a serious failure of infrastructure.

Unfortunately, this exact scenario is playing out with another industry near and dear to Iowans: biofuels. And it’s happening right under our noses with serious implications.

With the vast majority of gas pumps only delivering gasoline that is a 10 percent ethanol blend (E10), consumers have been locked out of buying higher blends of renewable fuels. For blends like E15 and E85, there simply aren’t many pumps available. Why? Most gasoline stations are owned by independent operators under tight contracts with the fossil fuel industry. Gasoline station owners only make fractions of pennies on each gallon of gasoline. Their agreements with the fossil fuel industry limit what station owners can offer under the gas companies’ brand names.

While clean air regulation rewards the producers of the gasoline blends for bringing renewable fuels to market, little or none of this reward is shared with the gasoline retail station owners. Therefore the infrastructure to deliver fuels for the 21st century is not being created. And this seems to suit the gasoline producers: They’ve dragged their feet for the last eight years and now threaten the future of this new and innovative American industry.

Luckily, Iowa and concerned Americans have a friend in Tom Vilsack. Last month, under Secretary Vilsack’s leadership, the USDA took a bold step to right this wrong by announcing they would invest up to $100 million in a Biofuels Infrastructure Partnership. The goal of the program is to double the number of higher blend renewable fuel pumps in the United States.

This partnership will offer competitive grants — in cooperation with state-led efforts — to develop, test and evaluate fuel pump technologies and marketing approaches that will bring higher renewable fuel blends like E15 and E85 to consumers everywhere. This initiative acknowledges the investments made in corn-based ethanol and supports growth for renewable fuels broadly. Secretary Vilsack, true to his ag roots, has created a seed from which a much-needed supply chain can grow.

This kind of creative approach shows vision and leadership, and is affirming to thousands of Iowans who are invested in the renewable fuels industry. Companies like DuPont have invested heavily, too — with hundreds of millions of dollars and our top scientific talent.

Make no mistake, the reason this industry is a target is because of the substantial progress we’ve made already. First-generation corn ethanol producers have turned the game on its head by delivering a competitive fuel that offers substantial energy security, environmental and economic benefits to the nation. As we approach the starting line for the next wave of advanced biofuels like cellulosic, which build on corn ethanol’s strong foundation, we don’t have time to waste.

This year, DuPont will open the largest cellulosic ethanol facility in the world in Nevada, Ia., which will provide additional income for 500 local farmers, create jobs for 150 seasonal workers and employ 85 Iowans full time. This facility is a modern marvel, converting what is primarily a discarded product — corn stalks and leaves, or stover — into the cleanest renewable fuel on the planet. We think Iowans, and all Americans, deserve a chance to buy it when they pull up to the pump.

JAN KONINCKX is global biofuels director at DuPont.