Fast Stop First

Vinton, Iowa, station dispensing E15 through new blender pump

VINTON, Iowa -- Opening new blender pumps on October 16, Fast Stop in Vinton, Iowa, became the first retailer in Iowa to add E15 since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ruling October 13 that retailers can begin selling the 15% ethanol blend for model year 2007 and newer vehicles, said KCRG-TV.

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The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) said only one other Iowa retailer--Popkes Car Care in Rock Rapids--had the capability of dispensing E15, as the E15 setting had been programmed in to the blender pump there when it was originally installed two years ago.

Retailers without blender pumps would typically have to add an underground tank or switch over an existing tank to E15, said the report. Petroleum Marketers of Iowa executive director Dawn Carlson told KCRG that few retailers are likely to take that step at this point, because E15 can only be sold for vehicles 2007 or newer and the retailers could face hefty fines if they accidentally sold E15 for a vehicle older than 2007.

Blender pumps combine the ethanol and regular gasoline within the pump, making installation of more underground tanks unnecessary. About 30 blender pumps are already operating at retailers in Iowa, according to Norton. More blender pumps are on the way with the help of a state incentive program that helps retailers pay the cost of converting to blender pumps.

Hardly any blender pumps in service now were set up to dispense E15, said Steve Kleespies, product manager at Westmor Industries, a Morris, Minn., company that sells petroleum-handling equipment including blender pumps. He told KCRG that converting existing pumps to handle E15 involves a relatively simple programming change that is not expensive.

Westmor Industries is not expecting a big push in demand to reprogram pumps for E15 for a year or so, Kleespies added. That is about how long it will take for the EPA to issue labeling language for pumps, which will reduce the liability faced by retailers for improper dispensing of E15.

Kleespies said E15 also could get a boost later this year if the EPA issues a waiver to allow sales for older vehicles as old as 2001 models. Vinton Fast Stop manager Vicky Miller told the radio station that the Fast Stop staff has spent a fair amount of effort educating the public on how to operate a blender pump since it opened last Saturday.

The Fast Stop's blender pump has a yellow hose for the more exotic fuels--E15, E30 and E85, and a black hose for the more traditional E10 blends, one with 87 octane and one with 89 octane. Customers only have to pick the right hose and punch a button indicating the blend they want.

"It's fairly easy," Miller said.

Fast Stop is owned by Growmark, a large, regional agricultural and fuels cooperative. Norton said the cooperatives in Iowa "have been the early adopters" in Iowa for blender pump technology that allowed flex-fuel vehicle owners to buy the higher ethanol blends such as E85 and E50, in part due to strong support from their members for ethanol.