Many in the ag industry celebrated when the EPA's announced its waiver decision to allow E15 for use in automobiles 2001 and newer.
Turns out the celebration may have been a bit premature. Speaking today at the 2011 National Ethanol Conference, Fred Walas, fuels technology manager for Marathon Petroleum, expects another 4 to 6 years before E15 is ready to be sold in the marketplace.
Walas notes that a new fuel typically takes 6 to 10 years to bring to the retailer. The process includes about five steps, of which E15 just finished with step number two: EPA registration.
Plus, some are debating whether step one was fully completed. Auto manufacturer representatives and folks from the petroleum industry pointed out that testing continues on E15 in terms of engine durability.
Step three involves modifying federal rule regulations. Then, Walas says state fuel regulations must be modified. Finally, the distribution network must be finalized.
Big questions abound, such as, what gasoline detergents will be certified for use with E15? What information will be on pump labels? Will pump handles be a different color?
Once the regulations are ready to go, folks like Sam Bell have a big job ahead of them. Bell is a member of the South Carolina Petroleum Marketers Association. He also owns several retail gas stations in North and South Carolina.
Currently, analysts estimate that 70% of the current gas pumps are not compatible with ethanol blends that exceed 10%. For Bell, an E15-compatible pump costs 30% more than a standard pump.
"Capital expenses are something that, as a petroleum marketer, are continually ongoing," Bell notes. Speaking about the prospect of adding E15 pumps, Bell adds, "These are expenses that may not result in higher profit at the pump."
Still, Bell says the retailers support the initiative for blending more ethanol into the nation's fuel supply. However, he expects retailers will not pay a dime toward pump improvements until the regulations are finalized.
"It's really hard to make a $25,000 commitment on one product dispenser that may not be approved," he adds.