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Blender pumps may be coming to a gas station near you

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About the author
Reporter, KBIA
Jessica Naudziunas was Harvest's reporter in Columbia, Mo. from summer 2010 through spring 2012.

Throughout the dozens of booths at the American Coalition for Ethanol trade show in Kansas City last month, you could find magazines on ethanol production, complicated equipment for plant owners, and representatives touting new ingredients for actually making ethanol. This show clearly was geared to sharing the latest industry innovations with industry insiders.

But for the regular person off the street, there was one booth that was quite familiar.

Basically, The technology isn’t new, says Dave Zumbaugh, of Gilbarco Veeder-Root, a North Carolina company that sells such pumps.

Gas station owners have been blending on-site to make regular unleaded fuels into mid-grade and premium for years. But these next-generation pumps dispense unleaded gas and higher blended ethanol gasoline from the same pump.

“It’s no different than a standard transaction (for consumers),” Zumbaugh adds.

Hundreds of blender pumps already have been installed, mainly in the Midwest. (Click here for a map.)

Basically, it’s a regular fuel pump, with two nozzles. One nozzle dispenses regular fuel for regular vehicles (with perhaps three options); another nozzle is for E30 and E85, fuels that are only supposed to be used in flex fuel cars.

Ron Lamberty is vice president of market development with the American Coalition for Ethanol. He also owns gas stations in South Dakota and uses blender pumps.

“I remember when slush puppies where, when people wanted to do those, and you had your choice of about eight flavors. And eventually, what happens was stations went to we’ll give you two or three or four choices instead because it is simpler. That is something we’re doing to deal with — how many choices do you give people?” Lamberty says. “In most cases, what these pumps will have is two gas offerings and two flex fuel offerings.”

While the consumer doesn’t do the fuel blending, there is plenty of concern about potential confusion. At most gas stations today, E85 pumps are separated from regular fuel pumps.

Seth Meyer, an analyst with the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at The University of Missouri, says even with warning labels, people who buy gas may make a mistake when confronted with blender pumps’ central location for all fuel available at a gas station.

 “You’re talking about the problem of driver of education, and preventing people who simply see a price difference from trying to use blends higher than they are supposed to be allowed to by EPA in their vehicles simply because of a price advantage even if it hasn’t been approved by the EPA,” Meyer says.

So, even if your car isn’t approved for a high blend ethanol fuel, that low price may tempt you to pick the wrong fuel at a blender pump.

But Zumbaugh says with proper labeling, consumers won’t use the wrong fuel.

 “There’s many warnings on here that say this is not gasoline it is for flex fuel vehicles only,” he says.

For example, the label on the blender pump on the trade floor at the ethanol show warned: Not gasoline! This fuel is designed to work in flex fuel vehicle only. Please consult your owners manual before fueling if you are unsure if you are operating a flex fuel vehicle.

So, check that owner’s manual soon. In the Midwest, gas stations may soon install even more of these pumps. Missouri offers a tax credit of up to $20,00 for this kind of equipment. Which is just about the price of a new blender fuel pump.