JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Many leading convenience retailers are adding E15 to their fueling options, but more may be joining the ranks as consumer interest in the fuel blend ticks up.
Notably, a December 2014 study by Carbonview Research found that 30 percent of consumers care about the amount of ethanol in their gas, and only 9 percent said they did not. Even more encouraging for the fuel blend, 55 percent of consumers said they want to find out more information about E15, according to Randi Etzkin, research director at Carbonview, a sister company of Convenience Store News.
Etkzkin presented the findings during a webcast, "E15: Why Leading Retailers Are Adopting the New Fuel," hosted by CSNews on Aug. 11. The webcast was sponsored by Growth Energy.
When asked why they would want to use E15, a renewable fuel blend containing 15-percent ethanol and 85-percent gasoline, consumers cited price and savings, as well the fuel being better for the environment. Conversely, 36 percent of consumers said they do not use E15 because of performance.
However, according to Mike O'Brien, vice president of market development at Growth Energy, in more than 300 million miles driven on E15 over the past three to four years, there has not been any reported issue. "In fact, we have heard that the performance is the same as other fuels," he said.
Several major c-store chains, including Kum & Go, Sheetz Inc., MAPCO, Murphy USA and Family Express, have brought E15 to their forecourt. In all, the fuel blend is available at more than 4,800 chain outlets, he said.
But the fuel blend is also gaining traction with single-store operators, O'Brien pointed out, adding that more than 100 single-store sites have been adding E15 to their fuel offering.
Currently, Growth Energy is working on a project with ethanol group Prime the Pump, to work directly with retailers at 725 sites that are adding E15 along with renewable fuel blend E85 at the pump in the United States. They are all part of retail chains in large urban areas and they have significant gasoline sales annually, O'Brien explained.
"They are big players in very competitive markets," he added.
Through this project, there are more than 4,400 E15 and E85 dispensers being installed in 23 states. Geographically speaking, there is Sheetz on the east coast, Kum & Go and Thorntons Inc. in the central region of the U.S. and The Minnesota Independent Oil Co. (Minnoco) in the Twin Cities, according to O'Brien.
"There is a very wide geographic presence going on with E15 right now," he noted.
In addition, the USDA announced a Biofuels Infrastructure Program last summer. The department projects that 1,400 new retail sites will be offering E15 and E85 when the grant program is completed.
But why are retailers interested? "Quite frankly, it boils down to these retailers want a competitive advantage and the ability to differentiate their retail locations vs. the retailer across the street," O'Brien said.
Key considerations for retailers include:
- EPA registration requirement
- Misfueling mitigation plan
Minnoco currently has 21 locations in the Minneapolis marketplace and will add 16 more by the end of the year, making it the fastest growing brand in Minnesota, according to Lance Klatt, executive director of the Minnesota Service Station & Convenience Store Association.
By the numbers, 33 percent of total fuel gallons sold at Minnoco sites is E15, which its retailers market as Unleaded Plus.
"These sites are attracting a new customer base," he added.
A replay of the webcast is available by clicking here.