John Eichberger at Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit

John Eichberger spoke at the recent Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit, predicting more gas stations will start carrying E15, but fewer are likely to continue carrying E85 as the auto industry reduces production of flex-fuel vehicles.

ALTOONA, Iowa — There may be more E15 and less E85 in your driving future.

“E15 has a great upwards trajectory,” said John Eichberger, executive director for the Fuels Institute, a research organization founded in 2013 by the National Association of Convenience Stores.

Eichberger spoke about fuel trends during the Jan. 29 Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit. Until now, many convenience stores haven’t sold E15 unless it was in blender pumps, which were capable of pumping E85. But if the EPA comes out with a rule allowing year-round E15 sales, as is expected this spring, that will likely change.

Many more gas stations will start carrying E15, but fewer are likely to continue carrying E85, he said.

A connected trend, Eichberger said, is that the auto industry is already reducing or ending its production of flex-fuel vehicles, also contributing to the possible demise of E85.

Eichberger also sees hybrid vehicles gradually falling by the wayside as the auto industry pushes for more plug-in electric vehicles instead. Hybrids require auto-makers to spend more on a vehicle — essentially building both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor.

Still, he stressed that it takes a long time to turn over a vehicle fleet. Right now, the electric vehicle number is growing, but it is still a tiny percentage of the vehicle market. It takes at least a decade to get large turnover in the nation’s vehicle fleet, which means predictions of an all-electric or even all autonomous vehicle fleet by 2030 are utterly unrealistic, Eichberger said.

The same long-term trends hold true for fuels. Eichberger said it took about 23 years for the United States to phase lead out of its fuel due to the pace of fleet turnover

There is a push to make octane a key part of the fuel discussion, and some in the industry are pushing to require higher octane levels or to make those higher octane levels the norm, he said. That could benefit the ethanol market because ethanol is an octane enhancer.

And Eichberger said it is possible that the octane move and other trends could lead toward E20 or even E30 blends becoming the norm. If that happens the demand for ethanol could rise to 22 billion gallons per year (at an E20 level) or 34 billion gallons per year (at an E30 level).

Of course, the push toward electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles could impact those numbers. And there is a trend as well for more young people to either not get a car or to delay that purchase for years, depending instead on ride-sharing services or other options.

Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.