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Lamberty Report: Bringing Home a Blender Pump
by Ron Lamberty

There is a blender pump in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Finally.

You would think that a town that boasts the nation’s largest ethanol producer, the country’s largest ethanol advocacy organization, the nation’s first-ever E85 pump, and close to a billion gallons of ethanol production within a 100-mile radius would have no trouble getting one blender pump installed, wouldn’t you?

Actually, installing the pumps was simple. It took one day. The old pumps came off, the new ones went on, were tested, and worked fine. This particular location was adding a new cash register and card readers, so the job required some wiring and programming, but even with those changes the installation started mid-morning and the store was open again by evening. But that installation day was about a year in the making.

It was nearly a year ago that the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council provided some funding and “deputized” me to find someone to put in a blender pump in Sioux Falls.

Stations that fly a major oil brand flag weren’t targeted. While the majors now “allow” the sale of E85 at branded outlets, until E30 or E20 has an ASTM specification they won’t allow it to be sold. Sure, once there is an ASTM spec they will find another excuse, but until then they’ll stick with the “no spec” excuse, and I guess that is understandable. We tried to explain that E30 isn’t really E30, but a blend of E85 and unleaded, both of which have an ASTM spec. Nope. Didn’t work.

We had been told the fire marshal was a roadblock after UL changed its certification for E85. Rather than throw our hands up, we met with them and found out they just wanted to make sure the installation was safe. We put together a safety inspection program that eased those concerns, and the insurmountable was… surmounted, I guess.

The wholesaler had concerns about whether the brand would allow it (they did), whether it was legal (it is), whether the retailer could be sued (of course they could – but the people who sue are not likely to win), and how the inventory was going to work out (the same as it did before, with different products).

They were also concerned that an ethanol producer might take some of their business. Frankly, that was the point. But as long as the current supplier offers E85 at a competitive price, the retailer will continue to buy from that supplier. Having blenders allows the independent retailer flexibility and provides some protection from the potential of irrational wholesale margins.

The only remarkable thing about this Sioux Falls, South Dakota station is that it is unremarkable. Every installation has these kinds of hurdles and challenges, and they all take time. But each time we clear a hurdle or meet a challenge, we create a path that is a little bit easier for others to follow.

 
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The American Coalition for Ethanol publishes Ethanol Today magazine each month to cover the biofuels industryís hot topics, including cellulosic ethanol, E85, corn ethanol, food versus fuel, ethanolís carbon footprint, E10, E15, and mid-range ethanol blends.
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