Clean Vehicles, Clean Fuels, Clean Air, Clean Cities!

Archive for May, 2020

USDA Announces $100 Million for American Biofuels Infrastructure

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced the upcoming Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program (HBIIP). The purpose of this program is to provide grant funds to encourage private investment and expand the availability of higher blends of ethanol, and biodiesel. Providing grant funds to cover a portion of the cost of installing high-blend fueling infrastructure and for building out distribution facilities will decrease out-of-pocket expenses and enable businesses and other public or private entities to invest in infrastructure to sell and/or dispense higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel.

Biofuels, like ethanol and biodiesel, that are produced locally decrease dependence on fossil fuel imports and reduce vehicle emissions. There are multiple constraints that place limitations on the utilization of large quantities of higher biofuel blends at the consumer level. Due to these ongoing limitations, most stations are only able to offer E10 (10% ethanol/90% gasoline) for gasoline users and up to B20 (20% biodiesel/80% diesel) for diesel users. By increasing consumer options with sustainable fuel selections, the program supports local biofuel producers, farmers and rural communities, while improving air quality and combating climate change.

The USDA plans to release $86 million for the implementation of higher blends of ethanol, and an estimated $14 million for further implementation of higher blends of biodiesel. Applications incorporating recommendations provided in the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity are encouraged to support the quality of life in rural communities. HBIIP funds are intended for distribution facilities, public and private fueling stations, retail convenience stores, fleet facilities, terminal operations, home heating oil distribution centers, and other similar amenities. The USDA is requiring one application per applicant for a one-year grant period but will allow proposed investments for multiple locations. Important items to note about the eligibility criteria have been pulled from the Notice of Funds Availability for the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program (HBIIP) for Fiscal Year 2020 and are outlined below. We will continue to update you with important information as the program details progress.

  1. Funding Restrictions: There is no minimum HBIIP grant award, and the maximum HBIIP grant award is not to exceed $5,000,000. HBIIP grants are awarded on a cost share basis for no more than 50 percent of the total eligible project costs. No HBIIP grant award may exceed the amount calculated as 50% of total eligible project costs or the maximum award amount of $5,000,000.
  2. Underground Storage Tanks and Systems (USTs): Fueling stations/locations/facilities constructed during the grant period are not allowed to receive HBIIP grant funds for underground storage tanks. Equipment such as fuel dispensers/pumps and other parts for underground storage tank systems that are available in traditional and higher blend compatible models may be considered for funding.
  3. Notice for Owners of Fewer Stations: A Targeted Assistance Goal is available for applicants owning the fewest number of transportation fueling stations/locations, but at least owning one. The Targeted Assistance is intended for applicants owning 10 fueling stations/locations or fewer. The USDA has established this assistance in order to distribute a portion of program funds across diverse geographic areas, and those located in underserved areas.
  4. Cost Sharing or Matching: The USDA has established a matching fund (cost-sharing) minimum requirement of $1 for every $1 in grant funds provided. Matching funds, in addition to grant funds, must equal total eligible project costs, and may be accepted in the form of cash or in-kind contributions. Matching funds can only be used for eligible project costs, including contributions exceeding the minimum amount required. The applicant is responsible for acquiring the remainder of total eligible project costs not covered by grant funds. In-kind contributions by the applicant cannot be used to meet matching fund requirements.

The USDA plans to hold a webinar focused on HBIIP orientation and enrollment on May 12, a webinar focused on HBIIP fueling station and fleet facility on May 19, and a webinar focused on HBIIP fuel distribution facilities on May 26. For more information and to register click here.

The American Lung Association was involved in the USDA HBIIP grant of 2016. It played a major role in helping to submit eligible applications for the state and individual station owners. We were able to help the state of Illinois receive over $12 million dollars in grant funding. The USDA will begin accepting applications on May 15th.

To view the full formal announcement released by the USDA, please click here. For program questions, please contact Senior Manager, Bailey Arnold via email or call (217) 241-9011. For technical questions regarding the grant, please contact Clean Air Specialists, Tara Brooks via email or call (217) 718-6698, or Shannon Haines via email or call (217) 718-6669.


Drivers Should Consider Ethanol Fuel to Reduce Pollution

Thursday, May 7th, 2020

Higher blends of ethanol in gasoline help in fight against Covid-19 by improving air quality and lung health.

Cleaner air could help us in our defense against the COVID-19 virus.

A recent study by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health[1] concluded that there is a significant correlation between high concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) emissions from cars and increased vulnerability of citizens contracting the COVID-19 virus. This link between pollution and COVID-19 deaths was previously documented by a group of Italian researchers[2] as well.

PM 2.5 emissions are very fine particle size pollutants which the lungs have a particularly hard time filtering, thus contributing to diminished respiratory health. Inhaling fine particulate matter can affect the lungs and the heart.

People with pre-existing lung and heart diseases, children, and the elderly are at a higher risk from complications resulting from exposure to particulate matter. Those living in urban areas with large numbers of vehicles and traffic congestion face higher exposure than people living in suburban neighborhoods, or more rural areas.

In addition, low income, African American, and Latinx communities are often exposed at a disproportionate level, resulting in higher rates of asthma and lung disease when compared to other communities.

For the past 25 years, Chicago Area Clean Cities has worked with commercial and government fleets to reduce air pollution from the transportation sector. Improvements in engine technologies have led to reductions in fine particulate matter, but we can do better by moving to alternative fuels, such as higher blends of ethanol.

The Harvard Study corroborates and reinforces previous research conducted at the University of Illinois at Chicago which reflects the benefits higher blends of ethanol has on reducing PM 2.5 emissions from vehicles. This work was done with help from The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota, a leading cancer research department and part of the Masonic Cancer Center.

Dr. Steffen Mueller, PhD, Principal Economist for the Energy Resources Center at University of Illinois at Chicago, found that increasing the blend of ethanol beyond 10 percent up to 25 percent significantly reduces cancer-causing aromatic emissions and PM 2.5. The Harvard study takes the next step and directly links high levels of these dangerous particulates and vulnerability for contracting COVID-19.

By overlaying an atmospheric emissions model over census data, the UIC study[3] documented ethanol’s ability to reduce PM 2.5 concentrations. This was particularly evident in largely African American and Latinx neighborhoods near Chicago’s expressway corridors.

“The UIC Study may in hindsight provide insights into a potential link between the much higher mortality rate from COVID-19 deaths in PM 2.5 polluted areas documented in the Harvard Study and the recent data on high COVID-19 death rates for minorities in the Chicago and Northwest Indiana area,” Mueller said, “Obviously, PM 2.5 emissions are just one important variable besides pre-existing health conditions and other factors that impact Covid-19.”

Healthy lungs are our first defense against this virus and other respiratory ailments. Reducing PM 2.5 emissions through alternative fuels, such as higher blends of ethanol, can help lessen our vulnerability. If you cannot breathe, nothing else matters.

E15, a 15 percent blend of ethanol, is approved for year-round use in 2001 and newer passenger vehicles by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help reduce emissions. It is time now to consider the use of alternative fuels, like E15 and higher blends of ethanol, for the health benefits in improved air quality for Chicago and for our communities.

When it is time to start driving again, the people of Illinois should consider choosing ethanol fuels at the pump to benefit air quality and improve lung health.

With people dying from Covid-19, we have to act now to take simple actions like this to help win the battle against future pandemics.

By John Walton and Angela Tin

John Walton is chair, Chicago Area Clean Cities. Angela Tin, who serves on our coalition’s board, is national senior director for Clean Air Initiatives with the American Lung Association. Both organizations are working to reduce air pollution in the transportation sector.


[1]  Xiao Wu MS, Rachel C. Nethery PhD, M. Benjamin Sabath MA, Danielle Braun PhD, Francesca Dominici PhD;“Exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 mortality in the United States” (Updated April 5, 2020);All authors are part of the Department of Biostatistics, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, 02115, USA

[2] Edoardo Conticini, Bruno Frediani, Dario Caro; “Can atmospheric pollution be considered a co-factor in extremely high level of SARS-CoV-2 lethality in Northern Italy?” Environmental Pollution, 2020, ISSN 0269-7491,

[3] Mueller, Steffen; “Research Update: PM2.5 Reductions from ethanol blends in gasoline in the context of the recent COVID-19 death rate link to pollution”; April 28, 2020; The University of Illinois at Chicago Energy Resources Center;