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E15 Hotly Debated At National Ethanol Conference

Despite its multiple challenges, many panelists tout the newest alternative fuel

The future of E15, a new fuel blend containing 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline, was heavily debated at the Renewable Fuels Association's 18th annual National Ethanol Conference. The event, held Feb. 5-7 at the Wynn Las Vegas, attracted more than 1,100 attendees.

Several panel discussions weighed whether E15 should be a staple offering at the pump now that the fuel has been approved for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

On one side of the issue, Louis Finkel, executive vice president of government affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said the group was not pleased with the recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which denied petitions to rehear a case challenging the EPA's permitted commercial use of E15. Although the association lost the case, Grocery Manufacturers Association, et al. v. EPA, Finkel said it is considering further legal action.

On the other side of the issue, Scott Zaremba, president of Kansas-based convenience store chain Zarco 66 and the first retailer to sell E15 at the pump last year, said he strongly supports E15's future and will continue to offer the fuel at all eight of his stores despite the opposition.

"We're moving forward with it, and we are excited about it," said Zaremba, who began selling E15 in July. "Education is the No. 1 item we need to work on. We are working on it every day."

E15 and higher fuel blends will be advantageous to all retailers in the future, according to Zaremba, who received the Renewable Fuels Association's Industry Leadership Award during the conference. He reported that E15 has drawn more customers to his stores, and said he's received plenty of feedback from consumers who say that E15 enables their vehicles to benefit from improved gas mileage and better engine performance.

Based on his own personal use, Robert White, director of market development for the Renewable Fuels Association, also praised E15. "I've logged more than 10,000 miles on E15," White noted. "I have not seen a 'check engine' light, and I paid less at the pump."


As panelists touted E15's potential, they also acknowledged the many obstacles standing in its way. One challenge, according to White, is the oil companies' franchise agreements with gas stations. "Many franchise agreements don't allow retailers to mention E15 on their marquee," he pointed out.

A lack of support from the auto companies is also worrisome. "Thirteen auto companies said E15 could or will violate warranties. This gives us a great deal of pause," said Fred Walas, fuels technology manager for Marathon Petroleum Corp., parent of the Speedway chain of c-stores and gas stations. "They are telling us not to use the fuel because it can damage their product."

18th Annual National Ethanol Conference

Feb. 5-7, 2013

Wynn Las Vegas

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