E15 Sales Reach Record Levels in 2021; Future Growth Threatened by Summertime Restrictions

Sales of E15, a gasoline blend containing 15 percent ethanol, hit a record 814 million gallons in 2021, according to a new analysis from the Renewable Fuels Association. The 2021 volume represented a 62 percent increase over the prior year and was nearly double pre-pandemic sales volumes in 2019. However, RFA notes, this success and growth trajectory are at risk unless the Biden administration moves quickly to avoid the reimposition of restrictions on summertime E15 sales.
“Our new analysis shows that E15 volumes expanded dramatically in 2021 for a variety of reasons,” said RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper. “But continued growth is now in jeopardy because of the recent federal court decision favoring oil refiners who are threatened by the competition presented by higher ethanol blends. In the wake of that court decision, the ethanol industry and its allies have been urging the administration to take the simple step of re-authorizing year-round sales of the E15 blend. Several pathways exist for the White House and EPA to do this outside of the legislative process, but time is running short. Now more than ever, E15 is needed to help keep gas prices in check, bolster energy security, support the rural economy, and lower emissions of greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants. Fuel retailers agree, and they have also called for year-round E15 because their customers want continued access to the lowest-cost, lowest-carbon option available at the pump.”
Cooper noted that a recent nationwide survey indicated strong public support for increasing E15 sales as a way to replace petroleum imports from Russia and keep a lid on pump prices. Further, while U.S. drivers saved an average of $0.22 per gallon of gasoline from 2015 through 2018 as a result of overall ethanol use, E15 is saving some drivers up to nearly $0.50 per gallon over E10 right now, according to pump prices reported on e85prices.com.
In his analysis, RFA Chief Economist Scott Richman extrapolated results from two key states that report E15 sales volumes, Iowa and Minnesota, to the national marketplace, and cites three likely factors leading to the record volume for 2021: an increase in the number of stations that offer the blend; the recovery in overall fuel consumption toward pre-pandemic levels starting in the late spring; and a rebound in the price of credits used to show compliance with the federal Renewable Fuel Standard.
“Expanded use of ethanol in E15 could go a long way toward replacing the gasoline from Russian imports,” Richman writes, “but if restrictions on E15 return this summer as scheduled, sales could go into reverse, further tightening fuel supplies and putting upward pressure on gasoline prices.”
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