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RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. — Lower gas prices are affecting the sale of alternative fuels, but the future for ethanol is bright, said Mike O'Brien, vice president of market development for Growth Energy, an advocacy group promoting all forms of domestic energy.
"The OPEC price wars can't continue forever," he said, referring to the fact that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries recently stated it will not reduce petroleum production despite lower gas prices. "Gas prices will come back up; when is the question."
O'Brien was a speaker at the inaugural Convenience Store News Fuels & Tech Summit, held at the Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa.
During his presentation, he also noted that ethanol could see price drops in the near future. Futures contracts predict ethanol will sell for $1.70 per gallon in January, $1.64 in February and $1.60 in March, according to O'Brien.
In the meantime, ethanol blends can still tout that they are cheaper than regular gasoline, with E15 being one example. As of a month ago, the 88-octane blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline sold for 10 cents cheaper at many sites compared to regular gasoline.
This in part has led to growth of E15 stations, which now number 104 throughout the country, said O'Brien. Twenty-three of these locations operate under the Minnoco (Minnesota Independent Oil Co.) banner, a brand developed by the Minnesota Service Station & Convenience Store Association (MSSA).
Minnoco stations are beginning to market E15 in a new way, MSSA Executive Director Lance Klatt revealed during the CSNews Summit. The alternative fuel is now being branded as Unleaded Plus, with the pump noting it is an 88-octane fuel. The marketing move has thus far been met with success.
Looking ahead, O'Brien shared that Growth Energy will be conducting a nationwide E15 consumer survey in partnership with Carbonview Research, a division of Stagnito Business Information, parent of Convenience Store News.
"It will be statistically significant and be ready by late January," said Growth Energy's vice president of market development.
While the presentation and discussion portion of the Fuels & Tech Summit took place Tuesday, the event began Monday evening with Convenience Store News Editorial Director Don Longo honoring four award recipients in an outdoor ceremony steps from the beach.
The Top Tech Executive award was given to Avsha Klachuk, director of marketing technology at Alon USA Energy Inc., while Flash Foods Inc. won the Technology Implementation of the Year award for its GoBlue mobile app. The Georgia-based retailer was represented at the Summit by Chief Information Officer Jenny Bullard and Director of Marketing Jeannie Amerson.
Receiving Fuels Leadership Awards were Zarco USA President Scott Zaremba who was named Alternative Fuels Leader of the Year, and Kwik Trip Inc. which won the Fuels Innovator of the Year award. La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip was represented by Joel Hirschboeck, superintendent of commercial and alternative fuels.