MN Fuels Blog

A Look At The State Of Our Air, and How To Keep It Clean
April 19, 2018
The American Lung Association’s annual State of the Air Report, issued on April 18, 2018, gives Minnesota generally good grades for air quality. The report looked at three years (2014-2016) of air quality data collected by the state and verified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Compared to last year’s report, two counties (Lyon and Scott) saw better grades for ozone.  For particulate pollution, four counties (Dakota, Olmsted, Washington, and Wright) had slightly poorer grades this year.

According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, vehicle emissions are one of the largest sources of air pollution in the state. Fortunately, Minnesota is doing something about that by increasing the number of alternative fuel options available to drivers.

Minnesota has seen growth in the number of retail stations offering cleaner-burning ethanol blends such as E85 and E15 (also known as 88 octane). Nationally recognized as a leader in cleaner biofuels, Minnesota is setting an example for other states to follow. That’s news that should make us all breathe easier.

Check out your Minnesota county grades from this year's State of the Air Report.

Find the nearest E85 or E15 retail station where you can fill up, and help keep Minnesota's air clean.

"Happy Tax Day!"
April 17, 2018
That has to be the hollowest of holiday greetings. In a best case, you’ve submitted your income tax returns and are now patiently awaiting a refund on overpaying last year. Nobody enjoys paying taxes. However, most of us understand we all 'chip in' to cover the costs of running a successful and healthy society. We might grumble, but stuff like bridges and highways are important to all of us.

We pay a lot of different taxes: federal and state income taxes; property taxes; state and local sales taxes; and all sorts of assessments on everything from buying a hunting license to registering a kayak. Fuel taxes‒federal and state fees we pay on every gallon we pump‒are understood by few drivers. And as you might guess, fuel taxes are even collected on the cleaner-burning fuel alternatives to gasoline and diesel fuel.

Years ago, Minnesota policymakers wisely based state motor fuel taxes on the energy content of each fuel relative to the energy found in gasoline. It might have been because Minnesota has no oil resources of its own and fuel diversity has long been encouraged…or it might be that the North Star State has an environment-focus and burning less gasoline and diesel helps lower risks to air and water. Whatever their reasoning back in the 1990s, it was forward-thinking and helped build Minnesota’s use of alternative fuels.

You see, every fuel type contains a unique amount of energy or ‘energy units per gallon.’ If you are paying the same tax on a metered gallon of propane, natural gas or E85, you are being ‘over-taxed’ compared to a driver buying gasoline. And, of course, that is a dis-incentive to use those alternative fuels.

In the United States, fuel energy content is commonly measured in British thermal units per gallon (BTUs/gal). A gallon of liquid diesel contains the most energy at about 129,500 BTUs/gal, while gaseous CNG contains the least at 900 BTUs/gal. To treat the motor fuels fairly, Minnesota tax collectors did a little math to convert them all to a common starting point based on the energy content of gasoline. It is referred to as ‘gallon of gasoline equivalent’ or GGE. The chart below compares various motor fuels and tax rates presently in Minnesota law (click on the chart to enlarge it).

American drivers also pay federal excise taxes of $0.184 per gallon on gasoline and $0.244 per gallon on diesel fuel. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, an average American burned about 656 gallons of gasoline in 2016.  If a Minnesotan fits that average, they paid roughly $121 and $187 in federal and state taxes, respectively.

Many people mistakenly think those “road taxes” cover the cost of building and maintaining our roads and bridges. Unfortunately, it’s been a long time since those were enough to pay for all of that work. Going forward, if we anticipate higher fuel economy vehicles and electric models are to become the norm, we will need to find creative ways to afford the infrastructure on which we all depend.

Summer Fuel Prices
April 13, 2018
Even though snow is lingering in most parts of Minnesota, the nearing end of school year means families have begun to plan summer road trips, visits to the cabin, and taxiing kids to camps, sports, and other activities. Many families will likely keep an eye on the budget, including fuel costs, as they plan their trips. Luckily, we have good resources for this purpose.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Energy. Aside from collecting and analyzing energy data, one of the roles of EIA is to summarize and disseminate that information in reports such as the Annual Energy Outlook and the Short-Term Energy Outlook. These reports help guide policy and the public on energy-related decisions. These outlooks are more than simple predictions; rather, they are forecasts based on accepted assumptions, modeling, and thorough analysis of available data trends.

Earlier this week, the EIA released the Summer Fuels Outlook, and in this summary, alluded to summer gas prices being higher this year than they’ve been in four years. The outlook expects that on average, households will spend $200 more on fuel than they did in 2017. So why the increase? Most likely you’ve heard talk of the price of a barrel of crude oil, which is a major factor when setting the price of a gallon of gas. However, other factors also affect the price we pay at the pump (learn more about gasoline pricing). For instance, wholesale prices, retail expenses, distribution costs, and federal and state taxes are all added into the price at the pump (visit our blog next Tuesday for more on the Minnesota state fuel tax). The Summer Fuels Outlook also predicts that the price per gallon will peak at $2.79 and average $2.74. News of increasing gas prices can certainly cause some groans and knee-jerk reactions in people, but there are a few ways to spend less on fuel. 

While the price per gallon of fuel is out of our control, one thing we can control is which option we select at the pump. One option is 88 octane gasoline, also known as E15 because it has 15% ethanol blended into each gallon. If you drive a 2001 or newer gasoline vehicle, you can use 88 octane fuel and will typically find that a gallon of 88 octane ranges from 5-10 cents less than a gallon of regular unleaded. If you drive a flex-fuel vehicle, you usually find E85 selling for between 40-70 cents per gallon less than regular unleaded. As the summer miles begin to add up, so can every penny saved by using ethanol blended fuel.

Find out if your vehicle is a flex-fuel vehicle here, then check out E85 price listings in Minnesota.

Read our blog next week Tuesday for more information about Minnesota state fuel tax, and some reasons why ethanol is less expensive. 

Fuel Retailer Trade Show is a Showcase for Ethanol Blends
April 6, 2018
Fuel retailers from around the state will gather in Saint Paul’s RiverCentre on April 9-11 for the 2018 Upper Midwest Convenience Store and Energy Convention. Formerly known as the Minnesota Petroleum Marketers Convention and Trade Show, this annual gathering helps people in the fuel and convenience store industry stay current with new products, better understand laws and regulations, and attend workshops and seminars.

It’s not the place where most people would expect to find the American Lung Association in Minnesota, but those in the industry know the Clean Air Choice Team has played an important role in the growth of ethanol blends like E85. For nearly 20 years, the Clean Air Choice Team and their partners and stakeholders have worked closely with both fuel retailers and the general public to increase the use of these locally made, largely renewable fuels. Today, there is a network of more than 350 stations in Minnesota that offer E85.

According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, tailpipe emissions from vehicles account for one of the largest sources of air pollution in Minnesota. One way to help improve outdoor air quality is to reduce our tailpipe emissions, so the Clean Air Choice Team supports fuels like E85 that burn cleaner and pollute less than traditional petroleum fuels. The Upper Midwest Convenience Store and Energy Convention allows the opportunity to educate retailers on the benefits of offering ethanol blends at their stations.

Learn more about the Clean Air Choice Team here.

Flex Fuel Vehicle History: % Alcohol Content Display
April 3, 2018
If you're familiar with flex fuel vehicles (FFVs) in the United States today, you may already know how to identify them among gasoline-only models, but it hasn’t always been easy to recognize FFVs. Before the yellow fuel caps, fender badges, and window decals we see on FFVs now, a person had to decipher the 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN) to know for certain whether it was an FFV.

Some FFV models, specifically the 1996 and 1997 Ford Taurus E85 FFVs, came equipped with another unique identifier: a “PUSH FOR % ALCOHOL” button. On the instrument panel in these vehicles (pictured below), a driver pushed the button and a digital readout appeared in a window at the lower left of the instrument cluster. The FFVs were designed with an in-line sensor that measured an approximate alcohol content of the fuel entering the engine.

For example, if you had E85 in the fuel tank, an "80" blinked for a few moments when you pushed the button. That number represented denatured ethyl alcohol (ethanol) and gasoline blended to about 80-percent ethanol content. Recollections of people who remember (and loved) driving the FFVs are that they were accurate to within 10-percent.

The alcohol indicators were a holdover from the early 1990s when Ford Motor Company built M85 FFVs for use in the state of California when a program there successfully constructed 100 fueling stations for M85, the methyl alcohol-blended alternative fuel. Early FFVs were produced in relatively small quantities and were sold exclusively to local, state, federal, and utility fleets for them to comply with alternative fuel requirements of the Energy Policy Act of 1992.

Years before FFVs were mass-produced for the driving public as they have been more recently, you only found M85 and E85 FFVs in vehicle auctions when they were cycled out of fleet service. Owners manuals of the era caution drivers that FFVs were calibrated for fueling with gasoline and/or specifically one or the other of the alcohol-based fuels.

So before Bluetooth wireless technology and GPS navigation, alcohol indicators were driver-controlled gizmos that appealed to the early alternative fuels adopters. When Ford and other automakers began building FFVs as standard equipment for the U.S. consumer market, alcohol indicators were phased out – presumably as a cost-savings measure.

Today, more than 20 million FFVS are on U.S. roadways. And the dashboard alcohol indicators are just a quirky footnote in the history of flex fuel vehicle development.

Learn if your vehicle is a flex fuel vehicle here
Read more about the alcohol display in the 1996 Ford Taurus Owner Guide, page 9-11

April Fuels Day
April 1, 2018
Ethanol blends are a cheaper, cleaner option. It's no joke; we're not fooling you!

Ethanol blends are not only less expensive than regular unleaded, they produce fewer tailpipe emissions than conventional gasoline.  If you are one of the many Minnesotans driving a flex fuel vehicle that can use ethanol blends or regular unleaded, there are more than 350 E85 stations located in Minnesota, offering the ethanol based fuel at prices significantly lower than regular unleaded.

Those who own gasoline-powered vehicles made within the past 17 years have an ethanol option now as well. E15 fuel, sometimes known simply as “88 Octane,” is available at a growing number of fuel retailers in Minnesota, and can be used in vehicles that are 2001 or newer. Like E85, it is often priced lower than regular unleaded.

As the weather warms and summer travel season begins in earnest, Minnesotans are fortunate to have some choices at the pump that are better on their pocketbooks and helps to keep our air clean, too.

So where do you go to find these less expensive and cleaner alternatives?
For flex fuel vehicles, find your nearest E85 station here
For 2001 and newer vehicles that are not flex fuel vehicles, find your nearest 88 octane station

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