The recent announcement of the High Blend Infrastructure Incentive Program (HBIIP) USDA is offering has created a buzz throughout the ag community with many non-ag stakeholders taking notice as well.

HBIIP is an incentive program for both ethanol fuel retailers and biodiesel distributors throughout the United States, creating an opportunity for economic growth while improving our environment.

Higher blends of ethanol not only have a higher octane, something many of today’s vehicles crave, but they also offer a low-cost and cleaner option.

E15, a blend containing 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline, will give consumers an additional choice at the gas station, while allowing ethanol manufacturers to recapture and grow their market. In turn, farmers will see increased use of the products they raise, and the environment will enjoy fewer greenhouse gas emissions. An added bonus as air quality improves is the associated benefit to lung health for all people.

In addition to higher blend ethanol, biodiesel will offer similar benefits, including increased fleet usage, more fuel storage options and more fuel outlets across the country. According to the USDA, biofuels contribute to energy security, reduce air pollution, support rural economic development and are an essential market for U.S. feedstock producers going forward.

USDA has committed $100 million to the HBIIP program to update fuel dispensers and allow more consumers access to E15 or higher blends of gasoline. This program, moreover, enables fuel suppliers to cost-share updating of fuel dispensers and other needed equipment or upgrades. In addition, these grants will lower out-of-pocket costs for businesses to install or upgrade infrastructure and related equipment.

Those who are interested in the program and apply can receive up to a 50% grant match in their efforts from USDA Rural Development in Illinois. Fuel retailers, fleet fueling locations and terminals may be anywhere in the state.

As a continued effort, USDA Rural Development in Illinois is partnering with the American Lung Association, Illinois Corn Growers, fuel retailers and other businesses and local government agencies to use this program to promote and use the U.S. generated renewable energy source.

I like to say, “When Rural Development shows up, somebody’s life is going to improve.” That’s true for us every day, but it’s especially true with the HBIIP Program for Illinoisans.

The program is posted on the Federal Register. Applications can be made beginning in mid-May and will be accepted for 90 days.

Also, the USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service will conduct three webinars to provide an overview of the Higher Blends program. Potential applicants will gain knowledge about the application process, including preparing an application, submitting applications using the online application system and accessing applicant resources. For more information on the webinars, contact EnergyPrograms@usda.gov.

Those needing technical assistance or seeking help locating potential matching funds may contact Angela Tin with the American Lung Association at angela.tin@lung.org or Dave Loos with the Illinois Corn Growers Association at dloos@ilcorn.org. They may provide further information on assistance as you and/or your company moves forward.

Our goal is to build support throughout the application period, so consider this as just the beginning. Visit {rd.usda.gov/hbiip} for more information.

Douglas Wilson serves as USDA Rural Development State Director in Illinois.