Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized regulatory changes that permitted the year-round sale of E15, which is often branded as Unleaded 88. As a fuel that has a higher octane and a lower price than E10, many retail fuel chains have added—or are planning to add—E15 to their product mix. However, there are three considerations that convenience store owners should weigh before making a decision.
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1. Not all components within the fueling system are certified for use with E15.
There are approximately 60 pieces of equipment at a fuel station that handle fuel and vapor. Although fueling equipment manufacturers are developing new products to be compatible with E15, pre-existing equipment and materials may be vulnerable to failures. For example, most underground storage tanks (USTs) currently installed are compatible with E15, but the same cannot be said about many UST system components. For instance, the EPA issued a technical compendium that clarified pipe dope and sealant compatibility. If incompatible thread sealant is used within the fuel system, connections will need to be updated.
Marketers who want to sell fuel containing more than 10% ethanol must demonstrate compatibility of the tank, piping, containment sumps, pumping equipment, release detection equipment, spill prevention equipment and overfill equipment. The Petroleum Equipment Institute offers a library of manufacturers’ statements of compatibility to help c-store retailers demonstrate compatibility.
2. Whether it is more cost-effective to blend E15 onsite or have it delivered from the terminal varies from fuel site to fuel site.
Thus far, most E15 marketers blend the fuel onsite. This requires a device in the dispenser to mix a preprogrammed ratio of E10 and E85 from separate tanks. That notwithstanding, more terminals are supplying pre-blended E15 for station operators that prefer to store the fuel on-site. At this time, however, there is an absence of terminals in the western U.S. that offer E15. Whether operators store E15 in dedicated tanks or utilize a blender pump, upgrades will likely be required in either scenario.
3. Strong housekeeping procedures are needed to convert and maintain equipment that stores and dispenses fuel with higher concentrations of ethanol.
If converting an existing UST to store E15 or E85, the tank needs to be cleaned to remove all water and sediment. A small amount of water is soluble in E85, but at higher concentrations the gasoline portion will separate from the ethanol-water mixture. Additionally, fuel stations need to ensure that all visible fittings, connections, sump and spill containment covers are water-tight, and the equipment should be checked for water regularly. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Handbook for Handling, Storing and Dispensing E85 and Other Ethanol-Gasoline Blends recommends using a dispenser filter with a nominal rating of 50% for particles 5 microns or larger and an absolute rating of 99% for particles 10 microns or larger.
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