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Ethanol demand boost from US EPA lifting summer E15 ban expected to be slow

Increase font size  Decrease font size Date:2019-03-11   Views:53
Even if the Trump administration completes a policy change allowing year-round sales of higher ethanol blends in time for this summer's driving season, any major increase in demand may not materialize until summer 2020 because fuel stations saw the promised policy change as too uncertain to act on this year, according to observers.

The US Environmental Protection Agency on Monday sent its proposal for year-round E15, or gasoline blended with 15% ethanol, to the White House for review before issuing it publicly. The agency aims to adopt a final rule by June 1, the start of the driving season, when ethanol blends higher than 10% would otherwise be banned.
President Donald Trump promised in October to end the summertime ban on E15. But that alone would not have caused any fuel stations to start adding pumps or storage tanks in time for this summer, given the chances that the ban never gets lifted and the fact that E15 requires separate equipment from E10 fuel pumps and tanks.

"Most retailers will not even consider a fuel they can only offer eight and a half months a year," said Robert White, vice president of industry relations for the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol trade group.

The RFA sees hundreds of fuel stations adding E15 equipment in the months after EPA adopts a final rule and thousands within several years.

S&P Global Platts Analytics expects E15 to expand in three phases after EPA lifts the ban: higher sales at stations that already sell E15, new stations adding tanks and pumps for the first time, and eventually new markets opening in the 20 or so states that currently do not allow E15, including California and New York.

"Increased sales are premised on the presumption that the fuel will be properly priced compared to E10," said Corey Lavinsky, director of global biofuels analytics for Platts Analytics. "E15 has less energy content than E10 and must be sold at a discount to be competitive. E15 should be priced around 2% less than E10 for energy parity."

Lavinsky said the timing of the policy change does not incentivize stations to add new pumps for the first time this summer, but several existing retailers "are ready to expand rapidly."

He pointed to a commitment by Casey's General Stores to offer E15 at more than 500 locations in the next four years, up from about 13 stores with E15 and E85 currently.

US ethanol stocks rose to a near record 24.3 million barrels last week, the Energy Information Administration said Wednesday.

"Allowing E15 in the summer months in the states that allow E15 will certainly raise demand," Lavinsky said. "More blending of ethanol will also result in more D6 RINs on the market and consequently lower RIN prices."

S&P Global Platts assessed D6 ethanol RINs for 2018 compliance at 18.5 cents/RIN Wednesday. They started 2018 at 70.5 cents/RIN. The 2018 credits can be used until March 31.

RINs are tradable credits EPA issues to track production and use of alternative transportation fuels. For corn-based ethanol, one gallon of ethanol yields one RIN.

Reid Vapor Pressure gasoline volatility rules currently ban sales of E15 from June 1 to September 15.
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