Blender gas pumps are viewed as one way to increase ethanol sales and allow for a transition to higher ethanol-blended gasoline.
A blender pump is connected to two fuel tanks, one with ethanol and one with gasoline.
The pump can offer different blends of ethanol ranging from straight gasoline up to an E-85 gas along with different combinations of mid-range ethanol blends, such as an E-30 or E-40 blend.
The higher ethanol blends from the pump can be used by flex-fuel vehicles.
Lucy Norton, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association managing director, says gas stations that have blender pumps installed would be in position to offer the newly approved E-15 to conventional vehicles which cannot use fuels used by flex-fuel vehicles.
There are 49 blender pumps in Iowa, Norton says.
Blender pumps are the key to allow for more fuel choices for the consumer, Norton says.
There is a campaign called Blend Your Own launched by the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) and Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) and leading corn-producing states. That campaign has the goal of 5,000 blender pumps operating nationwide over the next three years.
This past fall, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said his goal is to have 10,000 blender pumps installed by 2016.
The USDA has been awarding grants to help gas stations install blender pumps.
It has funded 65 projects with Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) funds to help offset the costs.
As a result, 266 new blender pumps will be installed in 30 states in the near future, according to the USDA.
The USDA grants only cover part of the cost of installing a blender pump, which range from $20,000 to $25,000, says Bradley Schad, director of ethanol policy for the Missouri Corn Growers Association and Missouri Corn Merchandising Council.
A map of blender pump locations is found under the “benefits” tab at www.blender-pumps.org.
Norton and Schad say the blender pumps were initially installed in rural areas and at independent gas stations.
In Iowa, Norton says additional tax credits will be available starting in 2012 for gas stations to sell higher ethanol blends. Also, there are some state infrastructure grants to offset the costs of installing a blender pump.
Norton and Shad predict more blender pumps will be installed in suburban areas.
In Iowa, Norton says interest in blender pumps in metro areas, such Waterloo and Davenport, is growing.
In Missouri, Shad notes they are seeing more interest in areas around Kansas City and in some of the suburban areas of St. Louis.
Many of the flex-fuel vehicles that can use the fuels with high ethanol content available at blender pumps are in suburban areas, Schad explains.
In addition, more gas station chains are looking at blender pumps.
Schad says station owners like the idea of blender pumps because it gives them an advantage over the competition.
“Stations with blender pumps have something their neighbor doesn’t,” Schad notes.
He says there is talk in Washington, D.C., of eliminating the funding available to install blender pumps in 2012.
However, Schad is still hopeful about the future for blender pumps.
“As we move forward, there will be more flex-fuel vehicles on the road.”