LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- The volume of E85 sold in California in 2021 jumped by about 55% since 2020 and nearly doubled since 2018, according to new data released by the California Air Resources Board, or CARB.
The implementation of the state's low-carbon fuel standard has led to the surge in sales, primarily because ethanol is more widely available than other biofuels including biodiesel and renewable diesel. In fact, ethanol accounts for the majority of biofuels sold in California.
Last year, California drivers bought nearly 62.5 million gallons of E85, a blend containing up to 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, for use in flexible-fuel vehicles. That's an increase from about 40 million gallons in 2019 and 2020, and 33.8 mg in 2018.
According to the Renewable Fuels Association, the E85 surge in California has "accelerated" as record prices for regular E10 gasoline are creating demand for lower-cost, lower-carbon fuels.
"In recent weeks, E85 has typically been priced 30% to 50% below gasoline at stations across the Golden State," RFA said in a news release on Monday.
California is one of just a handful of states that reports annual E85 sales volumes.
"During this time of record-high gas prices and heightened concerns about climate change, California drivers are seeking out options at the pump that are both more affordable and better for the environment," RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper said.
"E85 satisfies both of those consumer demands. This new data show that when the fuel is made available and marketed properly, FFV drivers will absolutely respond. The combination of the California low-carbon fuel standard, federal Renewable Fuel Standard, and a concerted promotional campaign by innovative retailers proves that the so-called 'ethanol blend wall' is a fictional barrier that can be eradicated with smart policy and marketing efforts."
Last September, state corn checkoffs in Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri announced a $1.25 million investment in California to help expand E85 infrastructure.
E85 is being supplied by Pearson Fuels, which is the largest E85 distributor in California with nearly 250 retail stations located throughout the state.
"Demand for E85 has been on the rise this year, with increases of over 20% from January to February, and we expect to see the same for March," Greg Jones, director of business development at Pearson Fuels, said in the RFA news release.
"We always want to encourage motorists to check their gas caps to see if they're driving a flex-fuel vehicle, and we are seeing more and more Californians taking advantage of our website and mobile app to find E85 stations near them. Drivers are seeing a real difference and saving quite a bit of money.
"In addition to that, we're focusing on blending our E85 with renewable naphtha, resulting in a nearly 100% renewable fuel that is 60% lower in greenhouse gas emissions compared to unleaded gasoline. We believe E85 can play an important role for decades and has the opportunity to become a low carbon fuel option for the millions of drivers who own these vehicles."
At the end of 2020, there were about 370,000 electric vehicles in California, or about 1.3% of all light-duty vehicles on the road.
By comparison, more than 1.1 million California drivers own flexible-fuel vehicles, and there still is more than 25 million other cars on the road using non-flex fuel, internal combustion engines.
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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