E15 made its official debut in Minnesota’s Twin Cities this week at Penn Minnoco in south Minneapolis. It is cause for celebration by the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, the Minnesota Biofuels Association, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Growth Energy, the American Lung Association in Minnesota and a growing number of independent fuel retailers.
Originally a Mobil, the Minneapolis fuel station is working with other independent fuel retailers to form Minnoco, a new oil company owned and controlled by station owners…not the big oil companies that have been largely dissuading them from offering higher ethanol blends. The Minnesota Star Tribune reported that at least four stations plan to rebrand under the Minnoco name and offer choices like E15, E85 and E30.
More stations may follow suit which could get E15 into more vehicles – a lot more vehicles. The Twin Cities metro area has a population of 3.7 million people. As it becomes more available in an area this highly populated, more consumers will simply learn more about E15. This is good on several levels.
From human health and environmental standpoints, for example, ethanol blends reduce a number of air pollutants compared to regular unleaded gasoline (for a list, please visit www.cleanairchoice.org/air/pollutants.cfm). Kelly Marczak, director of environmental programs, American Lung Association in Minnesota, explains that this is why the organization has long supported E85 use in flexible fuel vehicles.
In fact, the American Lung Association in Minnesota is administering the grants being offered to fuel retailers to install “flex” pumps that can dispense ethanol blends, such as E85, E15 and mid-level blends. The Minnesota Corn Growers Association has contributed $2 million and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is offering another $1 million over the next two years to boost the number of flex pumps.
Depending on a particular fuel station’s configuration, flex pump system installation costs can vary widely from less than $10,000 to a $100,000 or more, says Tim Gerlach, executive director and CEO, Minnesota Corn Growers Association. The American Lung Association in Minnesota is coordinating application materials and reviewing applications, Marczak says.
E15 will also be beneficial from an economic standpoint. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture reported last year that Minnesota’s ethanol industry has contributed more than $5 billion annually to the state’s economy, and supports more than 12,000 jobs. Gerlach says that the state’s ethanol plants are capable of producing more than 1.1 billion gallons each year. Between the E10 and E85 that have been available for years, Minnesota drivers use approximately 270 million gallons of ethanol annually, while the remainder is exported out of state.
Gerlach expects that over the next two years, many more stations will participate in the grant program, possibly as many as 50. There are nearly three thousand fuel stations in Minnesota, many selling under a major company brand. However, more retailers are also taking a look at going independent (like the retailers who are forming Minnoco). More also would support retailer bills of rights that would provide them some protection against restrictive contract terms limiting their ability to offer consumers more fuel choices.
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