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EAAers Spearhead Drive to Secure Safe Autofuel for Aircraft

April 30, 2009 — Perseverance on the part of two EAA members in Maine paid off recently when they worked to successfully secure a safe, ethanol-free supply of autofuel for use in aircraft. On April 20, the Central Maine Regional Airport Pilots organization imported its first load of ethanol-free autofuel fuel at the Central Maine Regional airport (KOWK). Mike Willey, EAA 798338, reports that 4,000 gallons of 93 octane (premium) gasoline was delivered to the airport from the Irving Oil refinery in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, thus providing a safe, reliable fuel supply for aircraft that require auto fuel to operate.

“I wish I could say this is a solution that everyone in the country could use,” Willey wrote to EAA. “But in working this problem for the last five months I have found that solutions are more likely to come from looking at the details of local gas distribution infrastructure and working with the local commercial and political entities that have stakes in helping to solve the problem.”

The Problem

As directed by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program, which required renewable fuels to be blended into the US motor-vehicle fuel supply. Maine does not mandate the use of renewable fuels, but due to the relatively small market of motor fuel in Maine, its unique distribution system, and pressure from the Governor’s office, all sources of gasoline-distributed gas stations in the state were converted completely to the 10 percent ethanol blend (E10) in the fall of 2008.

Maine receives all of its gasoline by ship or barge in 5 to 12 million gallon lots. The fuel is stored in large terminals; three in Portland and one at Searsport. This differs from most other states, such as in the Midwest, which receive fuel via pipelines or rail and store it in much smaller terminals. Storage capacity at Maine’s terminal facilities is therefore limited, and two of the four terminals are incapable of loading ethanol-free gas. What’s more, the raw gasoline stock used to blend with the ethanol is “off spec” – meaning it would not meet the required specifications needed for ethanol-free gas by itself; it’s only able to do so when blended with ethanol.


Legislation - Willey credits fellow EAAer Bill Chenoweth, EAA 399237, with organizing a meeting this past January attended by State Senate Majority Leader Lisa Marache (who is a pilot), the Maine Oil Dealers Association’s largest importer, Irving Oil; and State Representative Meredith Strang Burgess, representing marine interests. A proposal was on the table to compel state oil dealers (through legislation) to distribute ethanol-free premium gas. But since the governor’s office had recently pressured dealers to expedite conversion to ethanol at significant expense, any legislation to require them to go back and develop infrastructure to distribute ethanol-free fuel to all of the gas stations was going to be difficult and contentious.

Alternative Supplies - Coming into the meeting, the oil dealers considered avgas – 100LL -  to be an alternative fuel for this market. Willey and Chenoweth explained that ethanol-free autogas was more economical in many aircraft and that 100LL could cause problems in aircraft engines designed to use unleaded fuels or fuels with lower lead content. With this additional knowledge, both sides came to an agreement where the Maine Oil Dealers Association and Irving Oil would help find an alternative distribution system for ethanol-free autogas from either Canada or another state. Ethanol-free fuel would have to be transported to intermediate storage locations in Maine, then distribution to available airport locations.

The Solution

Following that meeting, Willey worked directly with Irving Oil to find a solution. “Once we agreed on the basic objective, working the details to actually find a source of ethanol-free fuel and get it distributed to the airport took many dead-end paths,” Willey wrote. Ultimately they found a transport company in Vermont that had imported fuel from the refinery before and had all of the Homeland Security, EPA and state licenses to get the job done.

“The solution we have right now still relies on us going into Canada in single load tankers and finding enough demand in the state to make it economical to transport the fuel,” he said. “Right now that seems to be working with our storage facilities at KOWK, but might not for airports with smaller storage capacities. Irving Oil is still investigating the possibility of creating intermediate storage facilities in one or two regions of the state.

“Our solution is a bit tenuous as a result. However, we are happy to take this a step at a time.”

Lessons Learned
Willey is proud that the aviation community, initiated by Chenoweth’s meeting at the State Capitol, was the driving factor in helping to solve this problem for Maine’s aviation, marine and recreational vehicle communities. Those other entities are now in contact with the fuel transportation company and have the opportunity to work out their own sourcing arrangements.

“We know that the solution is tenuous, but we are happy to have solved at least ‘Step 1’ and to move on from here,” he concluded. “The solution will come not from delegating the responsibility to some other entity but getting involved, getting educated, and being persistent.”
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