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    Future Looks Bright for Alternative Fuels

    Inaugural CSNews Summit covers ethanol, electric vehicles and more.

    BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Alternative fuels making a significant dent in the marketplace in the next five years was just one attention-grabbing prediction made during the inaugural 2013 Convenience Store News Alternative Fuels Summit, sponsored by Growth Energy.

    The event -- attended by executives from such organizations as Ricker's Convenience Stores, Delek US Holdings Inc., Crawford Oil, Hoff Bros. Inc., Zarco USA and the Minnesota Service Station and Convenience Store Association -- took place Dec. 5-6 at southern Florida's Boca Raton Resort and Club, the only region in the country boasting above-average temperatures during those two days.

    The Summit got off to a quick start when CSNews Editorial Director Don Longo released the results of the magazine's 2013 Motor Fuels Study. Perhaps the most important finding from the research was retailers' desire to sell alternative fuels. Among respondents, 43 percent currently offer alternative fuels. However, in five years, 51 percent expect to sell these fuels. Delving deeper, only 7 percent of retailers surveyed currently sell natural gas at the pump, but that number is expected to rise to 28 percent by 2018.

    Electric-charging stations could also be on the upswing at convenience stores. Only 2 percent of c-stores said they currently have such an offering, but more than 7 percent expect to offer electric charging in five years’ time.

    Regarding ethanol, 17 percent of respondents currently sell fuels above the E10 blend wall and nearly 36 percent plan to sell these fuels by 2018. Flex fuels and E15 -- a blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline -- will both reap the benefits. Flex-fuel offerings are currently sold at 10 percent of respondents’ gas stations. That figure will rise to 23 percent by 2018.

    Despite some controversy surrounding E15, retailers participating in the study said they are not deterred about the selling the alternative fuel. One-quarter of the survey respondents expect to sell this alternative fuel within five years.

    Mike O'Brien, vice president of market development at Growth Energy, an organization that supports ethanol, placed an emphasis on E15 during his presentation at the Summit. He noted that 38 U.S. retail locations have sold E15 for at least the past six months. Eight more gas stations have sold it for 30 days or less, and 15 more sites are expected to sell E15 in the next six months.

    "E15 generates good news," said O'Brien, citing news stories written by the Minneapolis Star Tribune when E15 was sold at its first Minnesota location on Oct. 31. "Retailers are saying they are receiving zero complaints and consumers are saying they are having no performance issues."

    One retailer not experiencing any customer concerns regarding E15, despite claims by the American Petroleum Institute and AAA that E15 can cause vehicle engine trouble, is Scott Zaremba, president of Kansas-based Zarco USA Inc.

    "We must have competition against [traditional] motor oil," said Zaremba, who was the first retailer in the country to offer E15 in 2012. "Fortunately, auto manufacturers are finally moving forward with vehicles that can run on alternative fuels.

    Representing electric vehicles (EVs) at the Summit was Mike Calise, director of electric vehicles at Schneider Electric. He touted EVs as particularly great for consumers that primarily use cars for commuting purposes. As for sales figures, he presented data suggesting 100,000 U.S. EVs will be sold in 2014, with the number rising to 1 million by 2020. A changing consumer perception of EVs is expected to drive the tenfold sales increase.

    "We are in the bottom of the second inning regarding electric vehicles," said Calise, using a baseball analogy. "Early adopters today tend to be tech savvy and wealthy, but that will change over time."

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