The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced recently that it plans to award approximately $22 million in competitive grants to expand the sale and use of renewable fuels, including biodiesel. Specifically, USDA said the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentives (HBIIP) program aims to encourage a comprehensive approach to marketing higher blends by sharing the costs relating to upgrading fuel dispensers (gas and diesel pumps), related equipment, and other infrastructure required at a location to ensure the environmentally safe availability of ethanol blends containing greater than 10 percent of biodiesel blends greater than 5 percent.
Applicants can include fueling stations, convenience stores, hypermarket fueling stations, fleet facilities, and similar entities with capital investments for eligible activities that support ethanol blends higher than E10. Applicants can also be terminal operations, depots, and midstream partners, for eligible implementation activities related to higher blends of biodiesel greater than 5 percent biodiesel, such as B20 or higher.
NATSO members with questions about how to apply are encouraged to contact the Alternative Fuels Council. The Alternative Fuels Council also will be following up with its clients with additional information regarding the grant. (Contact Ginger Laidlaw at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The online application system opened back up on Dec. 21 and will close Jan. 19.
Grants will be awarded for up to 50 percent of total eligible project costs, but not more than $3 million.
Earlier in 2020, the USDA awarded several grants under the HBIIP including several NATSO members. A number of NATSO members, including Deluxe Truck Stop, Trails Travel Plaza, BP Kenosha Travel Plaza, as well as Kum & Go, Thorntons, and Casey’s General Store were awarded grants in that round.
In the years ahead, there will be a plethora of alternative fuel funding opportunities for fuel retailers to consider. These opportunities can help minimize the capital expenditures necessary to adapt to different fuel technologies that will be commercialized in the years ahead.
24-7 Travel Stores currently has an $868,849 grant from USDA Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program in the works.
Mark Augustine, president of 24-7 Travel Stores by Triplett Inc., also worked with Metropolitan Energy, a pass-through funder with the U.S. Department of Energy, to secure a DOE cost-sharing grant. As part of that grant, 24-7 Travel Stores brought biodiesel to six of its facilities in Kansas with a mini-biofuel terminal facility at its location in Salina, Kansas. 24-7 is also planning to install four electric vehicle charging stations at one location as part of its plan to continue expanding its alternative fueling offerings.
“The travel plaza industry is open-minded and embraces alternative fuel. These grants help to reduce the investment and improve the return on investment” Augustine said, adding that the total bio project investment to date is $750,000.
This investment included a 25,000-gallon biodiesel tank, inline blender, a small biofuel terminal, and shed to house the equipment. The terminal gives 24-7 Travel Stores the ability to deliver bio blends to five other facilities.
The next step for 24-7 is a raze and rebuild in Goodland, Kansas. “With the cost-share from the DOE, we have designed in an inline bio blender there, and we have designated a spot for up to four charging stations,” he said. “With that proposal, I’ve added two other locations to add charging stations in 2021—all with this DOE cost share.”
As part of the Department of Energy cost share, DOE covers 45 percent of the project and 55 percent comes from the business owner and/or other participants, said Tami Alexander, program coordinator, Central Kansas Clean Cities, Metropolitan Energy Center.
Metropolitan Energy Center administers biodiesel rebates for fleets that use biodiesel. The rebate is offered by Kansas Soybean Association. As part of the program, fleets can receive $1 per gallon for biodiesel blended fuel up to $2,000 per year. “We have several fleets that work with 24-7 and have been using biodiesel,” Alexander said, explaining that fleet interest in the rebate has increased.
Augustine plans to offer blends as high as B20 from April 1 through October and is currently selling B12. "We've run some cold-filter-plug-point tests with our additives, and the results prove we can offer this blend during a normal winter in Kansas," he said.
Production of biodiesel has increased, and Augustine said the project is possible due to the increased availability of biofuels from producers, such as Cargill. "For years, we had to overlook biofuel because there was no product," he said.
In February 2020, NATSO and Chargepoint, the world’s largest EV charging network, launched a partnership to leverage $1 billion in capital to deploy charging at more than 4,000 travel plazas and fuel stops that serve highway travelers in rural communities.
24-7 is actively exploring EV charging opportunities as well, with a goal of creating a network of charging stations along the I-70 corridor in Kansas and also to have biofuels and renewable fuels available, Augustine said. "This relationship with Metropolitan Energy has assisted us with our vision of biofuels but also with the investment in alternative fuels in general," he said.
Augustine said he first started working with Metropolitan Energy Center years ago when he was pursuing compressed natural gas. “Metropolitan Energy Center is experienced with doing that and tries to facilitate the process,” he said.
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