A blend of fuel that’s been off the market in Iowa during the summer driving season is returning today.
Gasoline that has 15 percent ethanol blended into it is now available again.
Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) Executive Director Monte Shaw says federal regulations are to blame as the newer E-15 fuel blend wasn’t given the same summer driving allowance that the commonly used E-10 blend was given 30 years ago.
“As a result of that, you actually have to have two different types of gasoline to blend — one for E-10 and one for E-15. Oil companies use this quirk in federal regulations and only supply Iowa with the blend stock that is suitable for E-10, thereby freezing E-15 out of the market for three-and-a-half months,” Shaw explains.
Shaw says the E-15 can be used in a majority of vehicles on the roads. “It’s approved for use in all 2001 or newer vehicles. It is not approved for smaller off-road engines. But if you have a 2001 or newer vehicle, you can use E-15 and you are going to be getting a cleaner product, a higher octane product, and it’s going to cost you less while providing the same mileage and probably a little bit of increased power,” according to Shaw.
He says the inability to sell E-15 year round has kept some retailers from selling the blend, but he says they’ve been working to increase its availability. Shaw says 69 stations now offer E-15 across the state, which is a big jump from last year. Shaw says retailers have to stop selling E-15 on June 1st when the so-called summer driving season starts.
“We are going to be working very hard between now and next June to try to get the EPA to fix this or Congress to fix this. We need one of those two entities to step up and say ‘this is ridiculous,’ there is no scientific basis for treating these fuels differently. It is preventing a legal fuel from being available in the marketplace,” Shaw says.
He says the oil companies want to block anything that will cause more renewable corn-based ethanol and less oil to be used. Shaw says another tactic used by those who are against ethanol use is to say that drivers won’t be able to decide which fuel to use if there are too many choices at the pump.
“Somehow you’re smart enough to drive a car 80-miles-an-hour down the interstate, but you’re not smart enough to choose between more than two fuel options,” Shaw says, “I just don’t buy into that.” He says you can go to a restaurant and choose between thousands of different kinds of flavor mixes for you pop and that doesn’t cause any problems for customers. Shaw says having choices is a good thing.
“We support consumer options and consumer choices. No one is forced to buy E-15. In fact in most of Iowa no one is even forced to buy E-10. You can pay quite a bit more money and get a non-ethanol blend,” Shaw says. “I think you are silly if you do — but it’s there. So, we like the fact that consumers can choose E-10, E-15 and in some stations they can choose an E-30 and E-85 if they are driving a flex fuel vehicle.” Shaw believes E-15 would be a top choice of drivers if they all had access to it.
“If we could make this universally available and consumers said ‘hey yeah I’d like to save five or ten cents a gallon, I’m gonna use E-15,’ it could make up 80 percent of our fuel market,” Shaw says. “Now that is going to take some time. Right now what we’re seeing is that it generally makes up anywhere from 15 to 25 percent of the sales of the stations that actually offer it.” Shaw says stations in Minnesota that offer E-15 have seen it move to 50 percent of their sales.
Retailers in the Des Moines and surrounding metro areas are selling the E-15 for $1.15 a gallon at times today to promote its return to the market. You can find a station that sells E-15 by going to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association website.