Sen. Duckworth and Ag Secretary Vilsack push ethanol incentives during LeRoy visit

Source: By Eric Stock, WGLT • Posted: Wednesday, August 24, 2022

A new federal investment in biofuels could impact how much you pay at the pump.

U.S, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth next to the gas pumps at the Casey’s General Store in LeRoy on Tuesday to promote new incentives for gas stations to retrofit so they can sell E-85, a fuel made mostly from corn-based ethanol.

Duckworth, D-Ill., said greater use of biofuels should reduce gas prices. “The higher that we can blend in more ethanol, the better it is for folks who are trying to fill up the gas tank,” she said. “If you look at the numbers up there, unleaded is $3.85. But the 85 is $2.80. That’s pretty amazing.”

Duckworth said that lower cost will more than make up for any loss in fuel efficiency.

“As we demand higher octane because we want better gas mileage, it’s going to be the renewable fuels that are going to be able to provide it,” said Vilsack.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is offering $100 million in grants to help pay for gas stations to convert to the higher ethanol blends.

Duckworth said expanding ethanol use will be good for Illinois corn farmers, will reduce demand on foreign oil, expand U.S. exports and will reduce carbon emissions. The Inflation Reduction Act spends $500 million on ethanol production.

The new measure also includes incentives for buying electric vehicles, but Vilsack said, for now, electric vehicles can’t be the only answer to reduce carbon emissions.

“Detroit is going to continue to make combustion engines,” Vilsack said. “From now until 2035, people are going to keep their trucks and their cars for an extended period of time. The future of this industry in terms of transportation, in terms of cars and trucks, is still very valid.”

Vice president of fuels for Casey’s, Nathaniel Doddridge, said the convenience store chain has added E-85 at about 400 stations in the last few years — out of the 2,400 stores it has opened nationwide. Doddridge said only a small fraction of customers choose the ethanol blend now — between 5% and 20% depending on the location.

He predicts more motorists will fill up with ethanol the more they see it available.

“It’s a little bit intimidating to pull up to the pump and making a fueling choice, so the more availability in the market, the more we see that take rate go higher,” Doddridge said.

Vilsack said the federal incentives will be able to fund new E-85 pumps and storage tanks at 1,000 gas stations across the U.S. The government will cover 50% of the cost. A previous program covered 25% of the cost, he said.

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