The head of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association says a new state law should help increase the availability of E85 and biodiesel in Iowa. The association’s Monte Shaw says a state grant program for retailers has been retooled, hoping more pumps to dispense those renewable fuels will be installed.
"Eighty percent of the flexible fuel vehicle owners in Iowa that could use E85 don’t have access to it in their home zip code, so that’s a huge infrastructure problem," Shaw says.
Biodiesel pumps are scarce, too. "We have state agencies and other private companies that want to use biodiesel, like a B20, year-round and they can’t find a supplier," Shaw says.
The bill Governor Culver signed into law on Monday makes retailers eligible for not one but two grants if they convert one of their tanks to E-85 and a second to soybean-based biodiesel. Under previous rules, a retailer could only qualify for a single grant. Other changes in eligibility for the grants may lead some gas stations to offer customers a variety of ethanol blends, starting with the 10 percent corn-based ethanol blend that’s standard all the way to the 85 percent, "E-85" ethanol blend. In addition, some stations may opt to offer a higher-grade of biodiesel.
"The end result will be that we should be using more renewable fuels in Iowa and consumers will have more options to purchase these fuels," Shaw says.
Two years ago, $13 million worth of state tax money was set aside for grants to be awarded to retailers that converted gas pumps to dispense renewable fuels, but today $8 million is left in the account. Shaw says that’s because the process of converting pumps proved more expensive than originally envisioned, so the new law increases the amount of each individual grant.
"The expenses were higher than were anticipated to put in the pumps and the tanks and just concrete work and all this different stuff that goes with it so the existing grants were enhances," Shaw says. "…We hope that more retailers will look at this and say, ‘Hey, this makes sense for me.’"
The number of vehicles in Iowa which can run on E85 has increased more than 20 percent in each of the past two years according to Shaw.