Cheaper ethanol is evaporating

Staff writer

The option of using unleaded gasoline without ethanol or “unleaded plus” with ethanol are going away as area refineries are being forced by federal law to make more blended fuel.

Unleaded plus, a blended fuel with 10 percent ethanol, used to have an octane of 89 and was cheaper by 5 or 10 cents. Now, the bulk of blended fuel has an octane of 87, and unblended is almost non-existent.

Chad Nowak of Marion explained what caused the change. He is an energy specialist for CHS, owner of the McPherson refinery. Nowak also works as a fuel and oil specialist for Cooperative Grain and Supply.

The Renewable Energy Act several years ago required refineries to create a specified amount of ethanol-blended fuel or be fined a few cents per gallon. Refineries chose to pay the fine.

That changed last summer when the fine for noncompliance jumped to as much as $1.80 per gallon, Nowak said.

The quandary was, “How can we use more ethanol and still remain profitable?”

Managers of the CHS refinery at McPherson, which makes Cenex-brand fuel, decided to stop creating 87 octane unleaded gasoline, Novak said. To be compliant with the law, it produces a lower-octane gasoline, adding enough ethanol to bring the octane back up to 87, the minimum required by law.

Therefore, all Cenex-brand unleaded gasoline, except for premium, now offered at local stations is what used to be called “unleaded plus,” but at 87 octane instead of 89, as it was previously.

Retailers are not required by law to post the addition of ethanol (or alcohol) to their gasoline, but Nowak said local stations selling Cenex-brand ethanol-blended gasoline continue to label it as such at the pump.

Unleaded gasoline without ethanol can still be purchased from a few refineries or distribution centers in Kansas, he said, but it is much more expensive than the blended unleaded.

At Hillsboro Ampride, the 87- octane and 89-octane Cenex fuels offered are ethanol-blended gasoline. The premium grade or 91-octane fuel is pure unleaded.

At Marion Ampride, 87-octane ethanol-blended fuel is available. A midgrade 89-octane blend also is available for a few cents more. Premium is not available.

Casey’s no longer posts “Unleaded Plus” prices on its sign in Marion. On Monday, it offered one unleaded for one price and a no-alcohol unleaded for more than 20 cents more. No one was available to explain the change.

Unblended unleaded gasoline is still available at unmanned CG&S fuel pumps for those with CG&S white fuel cards. On Monday, it cost 12 cents more than the 87-octane unleaded at Ampride.

 

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