More fuel stations, especially those outside of the Midwest, are now offering 85% blends of ethanol, the Energy Information Administration said Friday.
The expansion, which has been tracked since 2007, shows that a majority of E85 stations were located in just five states—Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Wisconsin. But now, better availability has fostered growth of the blend in California, New York, Colorado, Georgia, and Texas, EIA says.
Currently, 2% of all retail stations in the U.S. offer E85, which in turn serves 5% of the U.S. light duty fleet capable of using E85.
Of the "newcomers," California and New York have seen some of the fastest growth in new E85 fueling stations, EIA reports. Only two states – New Hampshire and Alaska – currently have no E85 fueling stations, compared to nine that had none of these stations in 2007.
Despite the growth outside of the Midwest, EIA warns that the growth of stations offering E85 has waned in the last two years. In fact, the 7% growth in the number of stations from 2011 to 2013 pales to the growth rate seen between 2007 and 2011, when the number of stations doubled.
With the exception of New York, the Northeast continued to see slow adoption of E85 by retailers, EIA says. In 2007, there were no retail stations selling E85 in New England, and by 2013, only 13 had been added, with most located in Massachusetts.
Several states—most notably Minnesota and North Carolina—actually reported fewer E85 retail locations in 2013 than the year before. This decline contributed to the slower rate of growth in the number of E85 retail outlets observed during the past two years.
Questions for ethanol demand
As the EPA continues to ruminate on its proposed plan to scale back production requirements for renewable fuels on concerns of a "blend wall" – the point at which consumption of ethanol will be forced past levels that can easily be met using 10% ethanol blends – some researchers considered what could happen if higher ethanol blends were more readily available.
Iowa State University Center for Agricultural and Rural Development researchers Bruce Babcock and Sebastien Pouliot argued E85's case.
"Our model shows that if existing E85 stations could sell as much E85 as demanded by consumers, and if E85 were priced at fuel-cost parity with E10, then ethanol consumption in E85 would be 1.65 billion gallons," Babcock and Pouliot write. And, if E85 were priced to generate a 20% reduction in fuel costs to consumers, they estimate that ethanol consumption would increase by 3.6 billion gallons per year.
That could help meet biofuels requirements the EPA previously laid out for 2014 of 14. 4 billion gallons – but it's a complicated proposition, because the authors admit that existing stations cannot realistically sell unlimited amounts of E85.
But, the gap between demand and amount that can be sold at existing stations "shows that both price and the number of gasoline stations selling E85 constrain consumption," they write.
Read the full paper, Feasibility and Cost of Increasing US Ethanol Consumption Beyond E10.