Does Minnesota Have What It Takes To Seize Biofuel Opportunities?

t rudnicki

By Timothy J. Rudnicki, Esq

Seldom do the puzzle pieces align so perfectly as they now have to give Minnesota motorists greater access to E15 and higher blends of Minnesota grown, renewable ethanol.

Some of those puzzle pieces include State and Federal funds for fuel storage and dispensing infrastructure, greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction tools, economic development and consumer savings.

The puzzle picture, however, is only complete when the aligned pieces are put together.


One part of the storage and dispensing infrastructure puzzle involves pre-blended E15. This is a valuable product for the growing number of fuel retailers who are unable to install a blender pump yet desire to offer their customers E15 (marketed by some and better known to consumers as “88 Octane” or “unleaded plus”). The good news: this part of the puzzle is now in place and more pieces of the fuel supply chain can be added.

Diesel Dogs Fuel Services, based in St. Paul, is the first fuel wholesaler known to have actually delivered a load of pre-blended E15.  And Diesel Dogs is prepared to deliver many more loads of E15 to a rapidly growing range of customers. We at Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association are pleased Diesel Dogs has seized this opportunity to service the rapidly growing number of fuel retailers who want to make the switch to E15.

Based on Minnesota transportation fuel consumption data from the Energy Information Administration, approximately 2.4 billion gallons annually remain to be converted from 10 percent ethanol to 15 percent ethanol.

This brings us to the next piece of the puzzle -  fuel retailers. While we have seen a growing demand for E15 from fuel retailers, some fuel retailers need to make relatively minor adjustments to their dispensers so they can make E15 available to their customers. That’s where the State and Federal Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership Programs fit in.

Both State and Federal Funds as well as private matching dollars are available to assist fuel retailers. Hundreds of fuel retailers have already expressed interest in these programs which consist of either concrete breaking and blender pumps or the dispenser retrofits. In addition to fuel retailers’ demonstrated interest in the fuel dispenser retrofit program, we know of at least 50 independent retailers, annually impacting at least 60 million gallons of fuel, who sought to participate in the Federal Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership Program which could partially fund new underground storage tanks and blender pumps. For both these programs, the complete infrastructure fix and the dispenser retrofit, we know the fuel retailers remain interested because they will have the resources to rapidly roll out E15 or E15 plus higher level blends of ethanol.

But all of this potential is just that until it is actualized. Based on available information, the Program must be completed by the end of the year and to the best of our knowledge has yet to be actualized. Thus, the multi-million dollar question yet to be answered: will the State seize this Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership Program and secure its full implementation based on a realistic timeline?

GHG Emissions

The second big puzzle piece are greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While the consultant who put together the Climate Solutions and Economic Opportunities Report dismisses the role of today’s 21st century biofuels in reducing GHG emissions, to ignore this factor and the concomitant science puts Minnesotans at risk.

To compound this problem, State Agencies have gone so far as to dismiss the additive value of more efficient vehicles and biofuels in the fight to reduce GHG emissions. These State Agencies ignore the science and metrics and are content with waiting for only the biofuels of the future.

Obviously the consultant and the State Agencies have not done their homework with respect to 21st century biofuels and the actual production of biofuels in Minnesota. Furthermore, had the consultant and the State Agencies done their homework, they would have discovered that fuel storage and dispensing systems as well as internal combustion engines are incapable of distinguishing between today’s 21st century biofuels and advanced biofuels. The molecule is the same. 

What should matter to those State Agencies that have the authority to set policy priorities and corresponding budgets that will impact all Minnesotans is reducing carbon emissions in the transportation sector. 

Consider this reality. Minnesota ethanol producers are in a continuous process improvement mode. That means they actively look for ways to make more renewable ethanol, dried distillers grains with solubles and corn oil for biodiesel by using less energy and less water. Given all the continuous process improvements that have been made in the last few years, the GHG lifecycle factor for ethanol is even better today than it was in 2012. Yet even in 2012, when the Well to Wheels GHG lifecycle analysis was completed by Argonne National Laboratory, the GHG lifecycle for ethanol was from 44 percent to 57 percent less than petroleum gasoline.

More importantly, in the world beyond consultants to State Agencies, when renewable ethanol is used in vehicles, it does have a major impact on reducing GHG emissions in the transportation sector. 

Dr. Steffen Mueller, with the University of Illinois, Chicago, did some investigation.  He found that by simply moving from E10 to E15 as the new unleaded regular, Minnesota could cut annual GHG emissions by 358,000 metric tons. The slight increase in ethanol (from 10 percent to 15 percent) produces a GHG emission reduction which is equivalent to removing at least 75,000 vehicles from Minnesota roadways or installing and operating approximately 90 2MW wind conversation systems.

State Agencies, rather than dismissing today’s 21st century ethanol, should embrace ethanol as the immediately available GHG reducing tool for the transportation sector. But will Minnesota Agencies finally embrace today's ethanol as a GHG emission reducing tool and seize the opportunity to make an impact in the transportation sector today?

Economic Contribution

On the economic front, the third big puzzle piece, there remains a great deal of opportunity for growth in Minnesota’s renewable fuel sector. In 2015 the ethanol industry supported over 18,000 jobs and injected $ 2.1 billion into the economy.  These renewable ethanol industry dollars went into the household incomes of real working Minnesotans, tax coffers and the overall vitality of communities. 

In addition to the ongoing economic contribution of the renewable ethanol industry to Minnesotans, some producers are investing millions of dollars to further modernize the local ethanol plant and increase the capacity to displace more finite, carbon intensive petroleum gasoline.

Here again, the question remains: will State Agencies passively or actively dissuade ethanol producers from making further contributions to the economy or instead seize opportunities to build upon success and facilitate the further growth of this homegrown industry and the production of renewable fuel?

Consumer Benefits

Finally, what about the consumer? By consumer I mean, for example, individuals who purchase E15 for their personal transportation needs as well as local units of government who fuel vehicle fleets.

E15 offers more octane for engine performance and is generally 10 cents less per gallon compared to regular. Using data from the Energy Information Administration, annual gasoline consumption is approximately 2.4 billion gallons.  When we do the math on E15, at 10 cents less per gallon, Minnesotans could save $240 million in a year. That $240 million can stay in household budgets and be used in other sectors of the economy.


Over the years, many State Lawmakers and Governors, along with renewable ethanol visionaries, have been instrumental in fostering the growth and development of Minnesota’s ethanol industry. More recently, while some progress is being made in efforts to go to the next level by creating greater access for E15 in the marketplace, it has become clear that much more work remains to be done. We need to redouble our efforts on fuel supply chain issues and in educating consumers about their fuel choice options and the implications for their household budgets and the environment.

But we also need to have better alignment of the puzzle pieces within Minnesota government. Then we need to put the puzzle pieces together to create a renewable energy future that grows the economy and tackles GHG emissions today and well into the future. To be clear, some progress has been made and continues to be made in providing more access for E15 and higher blends of ethanol. Yet in some quarters of State Government there seems to be a certain comfort with thinking about ethanol as that gasohol in the 1980's rather than learning about today’s 21st century ethanol. Unfortunately, where there is a lack of understanding, or misunderstanding, sometimes junk science or personal feelings get substituted for the facts and the law.

Will Minnesota State Agencies put the puzzle pieces together and seize the biofuel opportunities within our collective grasp? Failure to do so is not an option, especially with respect to the action which is required to reduce GHG emissions and given the current and foreseeable vehicle fleet on Minnesota highways.

To seize all the biofuel opportunities, however, will require key State Agencies to put aside the junk science and the misinformation and instead focus on how to maximize the energy independence, consumer, economic and environmental benefits today’s 21st century ethanol has to offer. We stand ready to help.