MN Fuels Blog

On The Track Or At Your Corner Station, Ethanol Fuels Offer High Octane Performance
July 18, 2018
In the auto racing world, ethanol fuels have become widely accepted as one of the best ways to get optimum performance on the track. NASCAR has been using E15 for several years and Indy-style racers use E85. Ethanol is also a popular choice for racers on the small tracks, both paved and dirt, which can be found throughout rural Minnesota.

Fiesta Speedway, at the Chippewa County Fairgrounds in Montevideo, and Viking Speedway, located at the Douglas County Fairgrounds in Alexandria, are both good examples. The tracks host events featuring a number of classes of race cars:  WISSOTA Late Models, WISSOTA Modifieds, WISSOTA Midwest Mods, WISSOTA Street Stocks, WISSOTA Super Stocks, and Pure Stocks.

Local corn and soybean growers from Chippewa county will be gathering at the Fiesta Speedway on
Friday, July 20 for a special "Jam the Stands" evening at the races. Similarly, Douglas, Pope, Todd and Stearns counties will join together at Viking Speedway on Saturday, July 28 for their “Jam the Stands” event. The county corn and soybean growers recognize racing fans as a great audience to connect with about the benefits of ethanol blended fuels, so all grandstand tickets are free that evening, and will include information on the renewable fuel.

Both "Jam the Stands" events in Montevideo and in Alexandria are also connected with a biofuel promotion. Before the racing even begins, fuel stations in Clara City, Montevideo, and Alexandria will be discounting their biofuels, making them even less expensive than they already are compared to regular petroleum-based fuels.

Cleaner-burning fuels like E85 and E15 not only offer higher octane power on the racetrack, they can also be used by many vehicles on the road today, maybe even yours!

Where Every Customer is a VIP
July 12, 2018
July is National Independent Retailer Month, so for the next couple weeks we will highlight a couple independent retailers in our state offering the renewable and locally produced ethanol fuels.

One member of the family of ethanol retailers in Minnesota is VIP Auto in Plymouth. The current owner-operator of the station, Chris Robbins, shared some insight with us about his experience as an independent retailer in the Plymouth community.

His opportunity to be in the auto service and fuel industry started with his grandfather, Jerry, who began the family’s journey as independent business owners in 1959. Chris, now a third-generation operator, is thankful for the continued partnership and support he has that comes from nearly 60 years of family experience in the industry. He states, “Basically growing up in gas station, I’ve been amazed to see the advances in technology. As a business and as a family our philosophy has always been ‘How can we make things better?’ When ethanol fuels came to the market, it was clear that this was one of those opportunities.”

In 2014, there were only a few stations in Plymouth that offered E85, and just one that also had E15 available for drivers. It was later that year when Plymouth VIP Auto also began offering E85 and E15 for their customers. Chris notes, “Every year the percent of sales from E85 and E15 continue to climb as consumers become more familiar with these fuels and vehicle manufacturers embrace the product.” His positive experience with adding flex fuel options at this station have lead him to begin the process of adding them at another site in New Hope, set to open later this year. “Knowing that we can offer a better, cleaner burning fuel at a lower price point for our customers is extremely satisfying.”

“Having ethanol fuels at our locations has helped differentiate us from other stations in our market.  Offering a wide variety of fuel choices has increased our customer loyalty and established us as a unique destination in this area. Our customers prefer to buy local when possible and in the same way, as a small business we enjoy supporting our community through partnerships with local crime and fire prevention, schools, and other nonprofit organizations. Our customers support us, we support our customers and together we build a stronger community.”

Independent fuel retailers have a lot of decisions to make about their businesses and VIP Auto is one of those who have decided to offer its customers more choices at the pump.

Fueling Better in Minnesota, Thanks to POET
July 9, 2018
You see ethanol blend fuels all across Minnesota, but have you ever wondered where the ethanol is produced? In this post, we’ll look at one major ethanol producer in our state: POET Biorefining.

POET has grown from a single refinery in South Dakota to become one of the largest producers of ethanol fuel in the world with more than twenty-five plants across seven different states. Four of those POET plants are in Minnesota: one in Albert Lea (Glenville), in Bingham Lake, in Lake Crystal, and in Preston. These four Minnesota facilities have a combined output of approximately 179 million gallons of ethanol fuel every year.

The POET plants also produce other useful products such as dried distiller’s grains and corn oil (sold under the Voilà brand name). Many Minnesotan ethanol plants are now recovering corn oil, which is used to make biodiesel. So the facilities are now producing two renewable fuels and a highly marketable protein-packed animal feed, all from the same bushel of corn that was once used solely as livestock feed.

POET plants not only provide a market for Minnesota’s farmers, they also provide badly needed jobs in rural communities. The ethanol industry as a whole contributes billions of dollars to the state’s economy.

So when you fill your tank with a cleaner-burning ethanol blended fuel, you’re also helping a growing industry, helping our local economy, and helping to keep our air a little healthier.

Read about another of the ethanol producers in Minnesota here.

Knee High by the Fourth of July
July 3, 2018
An ear of corn would likely make anybody’s list of top American summertime icons.  Whether its popcorn, sweet corn, or modern field corn and endless green Midwestern cornfields, it could be argued that nothing is as American as…well…corn. Today, field corn is used in thousands of products ranging from toothpaste, livestock feed, and crayons to biofuels, pharmaceuticals, and even the fireworks we see at Independence Day celebrations.

As a kid, you may have heard, “Corn must be knee high by the Fourth of July.”  A cute rhyme, but that old adage is only a quaint reminder of what lead to a good crop of 150 years ago. The field corn of today will blow past ‘knee high’ long before July, while maturing into mighty 12- to 16-foot stalks to be harvested next fall.

When the U.S. Department of Agriculture began gathering data in 1866, corn yield was about 26 bushels per acre. And that was pretty typical for the next seven decades (see USDA chart).

By the late 1930s corn double-cross hybrids were in use and a rapid increase in yield just shy of one bushel per acre each year had begun.  That lasted for the next 20 years. 

An ‘agricultural renaissance’ of sorts occurred on American farms by the 1950s. The post-World War II years witnessed mechanization of farm equipment, continued improvements in crop genetics, and usage of new pesticides and nitrogen fertilizer that resulted in incredible yield increases averaging two bushels per acre each year over the 40 years.

Last year, American corn farmers achieved an astonishing average yield of nearly 177 bushels per acre across the entire nation (Minnesota was 194 bu/ac; Iowa was 202 bu/ac).  In some respects, the incredible growth, diversity, and development of corn’s 150-year success mirrors that of United States itself.

Journey Through Minnesota State Parks on E85
June 28, 2018
September of 2016 started a new and exciting challenge for my husband and me. While visiting family on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, we decided to add in a weekend of camping so we booked two nights at the Minnesota Saint Croix State Park. We tent camped, hiked, and even survived an intense thunderstorm, but while preparing to canoe on the St. Croix River one afternoon, we realized we’d forgotten canoe paddles! A visit to the park’s gift shop and boat rental office quickly solved our problem. It was there where we discovered the MN State Parks Passport Club and where the real journey began.

Currently there are 77 parks and recreation areas to visit and the goal for Passport Club participants is to collect a passport stamp at every one of those 77 sites. After the fun weekend at Saint Croix, our meandering trip south toward Saint Paul took us past five more parks. Born out of that discovery was the challenge to complete the passport in one year.

Minnesota is unique in that it has so many State Parks, and it is also unique in having the most E85 stations of any other state in the nation. Minnesota has more than 370 E85 stations,130 of which have blender pumps offering mid-level blends like E30, and there are 270 stations in the state selling E15. While there are over 400,000 flex fuel vehicles (FFVs) in Minnesota, not everyone is aware that their vehicle can use E85. As the proud owner of a FFV—Chevy HHR—we are dedicated to leaving as small a footprint with our travels as possible, and that included completing our State Park passport challenge. During the course of our year-long challenge, we drove well over 7,000 miles on a fuel that helps keep the air in and around the state parks clean: E85. There were very few areas in Minnesota without an E85 station, requiring us to use petroleum gasoline instead of E85. But using only 10 gallons of petroleum gasoline on a trip where 7,494 total miles were traveled is not bad!

We tried to decide our top three favorite parks, but found it impossible to narrow down. Across our state you can find beautiful hiking trails along rivers, great fishing, informative signage, rich history, and quiet camping.

We are often asked why we did the park experience in just one year. There are a few reasons, though it all circles back to my mom and her struggle to breathe. Throughout her life my mom loved being active, but in October 2012, she passed away from COPD. She was only 58. In honor of her I began a personal goal to do something challenging or active each fall. I hope accomplishing my challenges and talking about my experiences will raise awareness about the significance and prevalence of lung disease. I hope it helps others make a difference in their own way, whether that means choosing to use a cleaner fuel for better air quality or funding research to find a cure for lung disease. That was why we completed our State Park Passport in one year, and that's why using flex fuels like E85 were a priority on this journey.

If you're out there enjoying Minnesota's great outdoors during this last weekend of National Camping Month and happen to be one of the 400,000 Minnesotans driving a flex fuel vehicle, know that E85 is never far from your campsite.

A Little Bit of Bushmills
June 21, 2018
At start up in late 2005, the Bushmills Ethanol biorefinery of Atwater, Minnesota was designed with an annual production capacity of 40 million gallons of fuel ethanol. Efficiency improvements over the years since allow Bushmills to now convert about 25 million bushels of field corn into 65 million gallons of ethanol every year‒in addition to more than 164,000 tons of high-value livestock feed.

Bushmills is currently undergoing an expansion that will ultimately allow the company and its 400 farmer-owners to produce 100 million gallons, which represents an impressive 50% increase to the plant’s annual capacity.

If you drive across west-central Minnesota along U.S. Highway 12 and stop to fuel up with E15 or one of the flex fuels, such as E85 or E30, you’ll likely be purchasing gallons made with Bushmills’ locally-grown, renewable-based ethanol. That's because Bushmills is one of several Minnesota ethanol plants offering direct fuel supply to retail station partners.

Bushmills provides retailers with the pre-blended E85 that is either sold as standalone E85 to flex-fuel vehicle drivers or blended onsite via station equipment into other gasoline alternatives, such as E15 or E30. So whether you’re choosing the dispenser button for E15 or E30 or E85 at a station in west-central Minnesota, you’re always getting a little bit of Bushmills from Atwater, Minnesota.

What About That Name?

Q: How did a Minnesota ethanol plant come to share a name with a famous Irish whiskey?

A: The late Andy Quinn was a driving force in getting the Atwater ethanol plant built, and he also served as the company's first chairman. Andy was proud of his Irish heritage and had toured the world-famous Old Bushmills Distillery of Northern Ireland. It was he who suggested the Bushmills name for the ethanol plant, and it stuck.

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