MN Fuels Blog
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.
Welcome to the Biofuels Family!
June 13, 2018
In the last few weeks, at least seven new stations have been added to our retailer directory, including stations in Delano, Forest Lake, Minneapolis, Plymouth, Stacy, White Bear Lake, and Winona. All of these new additions offer E15, with two also offering higher ethanol blends like E30 and E85. It's a great time to check our station list again for your closest options.
The newest station opening is Winner Gas located at 3333 Cedar Avenue in Minneapolis. This station joins four other Winner Gas stations in the metro area now offering FlexFuels!
When you're traveling in the metro and see a Winner station, their price sign will indicate whether they have ethanol blends. If you see the E85 logo, stop in to fuel up your flex fuel vehicle and check out the new dispensers!
In the Heart of the Oil Patch
June 8, 2018
Watford City, North Dakota is a great little place. It’s been my good fortune to travel there many times over the last 30 years to visit family. Unlike most small places, Watford City has often been featured in the national news in recent years during the last oil boom when its population of 1,500 exploded to 7,000 (or more). In the county seat of McKenzie County, Watford Citians found their way of life thrust into the hurricane that was the “Bakken Oil Play”‒ Watford City is in the heart of the western North Dakota oil patch.
For years I've been stopping by the local Kum & Go station, located at Main Street and the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway. Their coffee has saved me many times while I’ve stayed with non-coffee-drinking relatives. But mostly I stop there because Kum & Go sells E85 fuel for flex fuel vehicles (FFVs).
When the company remodeled the station in the midst of all the craziness that is an oil boom town, I figured E85 would get lost in the hubbub and dropped from the company's plans. But when that shiny new convenience store and its big new dispenser islands re-opened, there was E85 under the canopy!
Like other places, there are plenty of E85-capable FFVs in McKenzie County. During my early morning forays to Kum & Go for coffee, I've witnessed rows of oilfield services pickups idling in the parking lot, dozens of those marked with FFV badges.
Understandably, Kum & Go is a bit shy about sharing sales data or whether it's individuals or vehicle fleets buying their E85. However, the company has now added the renewable-based fuel to their outlets in Tioga and Williston. And their pricing relative to gasoline has been competitive.
My takeaway is that ethanol-blended fuels are doing well in the heart of the oil patch.
Western North Dakota has weathered at least three “boom & bust” cycles since oil was discovered there in the 1950s. I suspect more than a few locals appreciate the long-term and stable economic development benefits that renewables can provide and understand the importance of diversifying our transportation fuels.
North Dakota is home to nearly fifty E85 stations including twenty that offer mid-level blends. For a full listing of the North Dakota sites, visit CleanAirChoice.org or to find stations along your travel route in North Dakota, visit the U.S. Department of Energy's Alternative Fuel Data Center and use the Station Locator and Map a Route tool.
The Other Price of Oil
June 4, 2018
You may have heard about the recent gasoline spill in Ely, Minnesota. Workers at a local service station, investigating what they first thought was a small spill, were shocked to discover that nearly 5,000 gallons of gasoline had escaped into the ground. Some of the fuel has made its way into the city’s storm sewer system and a nearby lake. While crews try to assess the situation and prevent further damage, spills such as this can have lasting (and expensive) consequences.
One example can be found in our neighboring state of North Dakota, which is a major petroleum producing state. A leak of a crude oil pipeline in the northwestern part of the state has resulted in a cleanup that has lasted five years and has cost the oil company an estimated $93 million.
Closer to home, the City of Blaine has been forced to shut down several of its wells because of gasoline contamination in the groundwater. The original source of the gasoline is unknown, but it likely goes back to days when inspections and environmental protections were less stringent.
Any type of fuel spill is bad, but ethanol degrades quickly in the natural environment, often in a matter of days. Crude oil and refined fuels like gasoline are different, and can cause problems for decades. In addition, because ethanol is produced closer to home, the refined product doesn't have to be transported as far to the consumer, resulting in lower risk of spill.
We're all aware of the rising gas prices so far this summer, but the costs mentioned above are price tags we should never overlook.
Those of us who use ethanol-based fuels like E85 can feel good about using a product that is largely renewable, has less tailpipe emissions, and helps to support our state’s economy.
Cylinder Index Machismo
May 31, 2018
We moved into that new-to-us house in a southern Twin Cities suburb back in 1999. It was early spring, in between slush and mud, and the time when suburbanites emerge from their ivory and taupe four-bedroom igloos. On that sunny day, a neighborhood envoy of two gentlemen caught me washing my Taurus in the driveway. By professions they were a carpenter and a deputy sheriff, so good people to know, I figured. We chatted over all the usual Minnesotan middle-class male bonding topics: fishing, ice fishing, hunting and something called Garage Logic. Garage Logic or "GL" is the radio show creation of Twin Cities personality Joe Soucheray. I wasn't a GL devotee, but was familiar with Soucheray, his sidekick Rookie, and their macho shtick of mocking modern life. GL fans claim no problem is ever so great that it cannot be solved in the garage.
Having gained enough intel on the new guy in the neighborhood, ‘Carpenter and Deputy’ stated it was time to let me get back to washing the Ford. As they walked away, Deputy stopped and pointed to the tattered yellow "Fuel Your Passion" decal on the tongue of my boat trailer. He mocked, "Uh-oh! We have an ethanol lover! Gonna need to see verification of your CI!"
I laughed it off. But, wait…What? CI? Oh, right. CI, or "Cylinder Index" is the GL measurement of a man's worth based on the number of internal combustion engine cylinders he owns. A man’s CI is the foundation from which all maleness springs forth. In the make-believe radio world of GL, a man reaching a CI greater than his age is held in highest esteem.
Deputy's comment continued to gnaw at me while I went about organizing my suburban garage with the detritus of modern living. What was my CI? Did I measure up? Mentally, I calculated cylinders: Two vehicles (14), the old ‘78 International Scout inherited from my father-in-law (8), three outboard motors (8), trimmer (1), rider and push mowers (3), motorcycle (2), snowblower (1), the old jet ski stored at my parents' (3), chainsaw (1), an all-terrain four-wheeler (1), two snowmobiles (4). That's an impressive CI of 46!
Granted, I had moved to this suburb from northern Minnesota where I presume the average CI is even higher, but my CI exceeded my age by an impressive eleven. Forty-six in a single suburban household! Is it any wonder the oil business has been so prosperous...and powerful?
Yes, I had reached revered status in Soucheray's hallowed halls of manhood. My CI was higher than those of my neighbors, too. But there was still Deputy’s negative perception of ethanol that lingered with me. I wondered if he understood E10 (10% ethanol, 90% gasoline) had been the standard gasoline throughout Minnesota since October 1997–back then, 2.3 billion gallons were consumed annually. Even before that, E10 had been required for a decade in Minnesota’s and other U.S. urban centers to combat worsening air pollution. It's no wonder more and more retail locations are adding E15 all around the Twin Cities.
Since the late 1970s my family had used E10 in all our vehicles and small engines‒with the exception of that flex-fuel Ford Taurus in the driveway, which it pained me to fuel with anything but E85. In 40 years of usage “up north,” my clan has encountered zero problems with using fuel ethanol. A long time ago, it became second nature to us.
Although, I must confess I did seize up the riding lawnmower. Forgot to refill it after changing oil out in my garage. Made it twice around the yard before she blew. But let's just keep that between you and me. I'd sure hate to ruin anybody’s perceptions.
A Time For Good Times And Somber Remembrances
May 28, 2018
Today is a national holiday set aside to honor those who have died while serving in the military. It has also come to represent a long weekend for picnics, big sales, and the start of the summer season. In Indianapolis, though, it is the weekend that celebrates the “greatest spectacle in racing,” an event that first began in 1911.
Robert Moffitt, Clean Air Choice Team communications director, grew up in Indianapolis, where the Indianapolis 500 dominated local news coverage for the entire month of May. “Stories about the race lead the newscasts and make headlines just about every day,” he said. “But one story about the Indy 500 remains relatively unknown – the fact that the world’s fastest and most advanced race cars run on E85.”
Indy cars began using various blends of ethanol or methanol in 2006, eventually settling on an E85 ethanol blend, the same fuel sold in more than 370 stations in Minnesota. Because ethanol gets better fuel mileage than methanol, Indy fuel tanks were reduced from 30 US gallons to 22 gallons, but with no loss of range or power.
The E85 ethanol blend used now is also considered safer—not only for the pit crew, but also for the driver—than the methanol blends previously used on the track.
“When first time users ask me if E85 is okay to use in their flex fuel vehicles, I tell them that’s what they use in million dollar race cars.” Moffitt said. “A cleaner-burning, high octane fuel that usually costs less than gasoline? What’s not to like about that?”
Moffitt, an Army veteran, will likely watch the race on television on Memorial Day weekend. He also plans to remember the men and women the holiday was intended to remember.