WATERTOWN — A South Dakota ethanol producer is asking the state to convert the state’s fleet to an E30 ethanol-blended gasoline after a Nebraska study found the fuel is an alternative achievable in non-flex fuel vehicles.
The call comes from Glacial Lakes Energy (GLE) – a Watertown-based ethanol producer that produces around 360 million gallons of ethanol a year – which saw rising gasoline prices as an opportunity to renew its efforts to encourage individual and commercial consumers to convert to E30.
Marcy Kohl, director of communications and corporate affairs for GLE, said that while it’s not uncommon for people in the Midwest to support their local agricultural producers, there are many common hesitations about using a blend. E30 in a vehicle.
Many are hesitant to use E30 blends
According to GLE, ethanol blends, such as E30, significantly reduce carbon deposits in a vehicle, which can create a cleaner, more efficient engine. It also reduces carbon emissions from an exhaust pipe and reduces the need for carcinogenic additives in gasoline, such as benzene.
“E30 is a 30% blend of ethanol and regular gasoline. Typically, when you stop at the pump and buy regular unleaded, 87 is E10,” Kohl said. “Obviously E85 is an 85% blend, so E30 is that 30% blend.”
Despite the benefits, Kohl said many are expressing concern that their engines will accept higher blends of ethanol. To address these concerns, GLE conducted a study in 2016, involving one million gallons of E30, an independent mechanic and over 40 vehicles of various makes, models and years.
“When we took on the E30 challenge, we knew we couldn’t just go there as a GLE and everyone was going to believe us, so we found an automotive technician in Watertown, Andy Wicks, who works with engines high performance,” Kohl said. . “We teamed up and said we wanted you to be our neutral third party and if something is wrong with that process, we need you to diagnose it.”
With a mechanic on standby, Kohl said a top consumer concern is that the E30 could cause vapor lock or erode rubber engine seals.
“The water vapor lock is not true. Back then, engines were so different from what they are now. All in [most modern] engines is a closed-loop system, so there is no steam or water entering it,” Kohl said. “Another concern is that ethanol will damage the rubber seals on the engine. Engines and parts have come this far, and Andy always says take a bucket and throw it in the E30, leave it there for a year and see what happens – nothing.
Another major concern, especially as gas prices climb, is fuel efficiency.
Many factors go into fuel efficiency, including how a person accelerates and decelerates, the vehicle they drive, where they drive, and even road conditions. Kohl said that while it’s not a promise that fuel efficiency will increase, most decreases in miles per gallon are so small that the cost benefit outweighs any loss in efficiency.
“When we did the E30 study, we asked consumers to use three tanks made up of E10 and then switch to three tanks of E30. We had vehicles that were losing a mile per gallon or two, nothing significant, and we had others gaining,” Kohl said. “The EcoBoost engines and the high-compression engines had a pretty big mileage gain, and for the most part everyone maintained or gained Those who lost look at the price and compare the price to the mileage, still came out on top.
Kohl, who drives a 2007 Honda Accord, has been running her vehicle on E30 since she bought it, and said her mechanics couldn’t tell the difference in its engine other than that it was cleaner on the inside.
Nebraska Study Proves Effectiveness of E30 in Non-Flex Fuel Vehicles
“The EPA typically tests vehicles for 200 miles. We continued to monitor gallons sold, and since 2016 Aberdeen and Watertown have been pushing millions of miles and gallons,” Kohl said. “To give (in the study ) a few legs, all of our information was turned to the state of South Dakota and the state of Nebraska, Minnesota, EPA, Ford, Chevy, etc.”
After word got to Nebraska, a group at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln conducted a study on the long-term scalability and economic feasibility of consuming E30 in non-flex-fuel cars.
Flex-fuel cars are those that can accept a range of fuels, from premium gasoline to an E85 blend. The US Department of Energy estimated that more than 21 million flex-fuel vehicles were on the country’s roads in 2018.
In the UNL study, led by students Adil Alsiyabi and Seth Stroh alongside assistant professor Rajib Saha, researchers monitored the conditions of 50 non-flex-fuel vehicles in the Nebraska state fleet, as about half were fueled with an E15 blend and the rest with an E30 blend.
After a year, they found that the vehicles were able to adapt to the higher oxygen content of E30 and that the higher ethanol content had “no observable negative effect on overall vehicle performance”. .
In terms of cost, the group found that a price difference of more than 2.5% compared to E15 would make E30 the most economically viable fuel. Additionally, if the Nebraska Transportation Service Bureau and the State Patrol powered their non-flex-fuel vehicles with E30 instead of E15, CO2 emissions would drop by about 529 tons per year. Extrapolating, if 10% of Nebraska’s 1.7 million registered vehicles switched to E30, CO2 emissions would be reduced by 64,000 tons per year, they found.
Announcing the results in March 2021, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts touted the research, adding that the study helps prove the widespread benefits of E30 for growers and consumers.
“The state-university research partnership clearly demonstrates that E30 is a safe and reliable fuel for vehicles,” Ricketts said at a press conference. “Ethanol saves drivers money at the pump, is good for air quality and creates opportunity for our farm families. This study will be of great help as we advocate for increasing the volume of E30 in our nation’s fuel supply. In turn, increased demand for E30 biofuel will benefit Nebraska corn growers who supply 35% of their crop to our state’s ethanol industry.
GLE asks Governor Noem to convert South Dakota fleet to E30
In Governor Kristi Noem’s 2019 State of the State Address, her first as governor, she shared with lawmakers her desire to transition the state’s fleet to the use of the E30.
“We will begin the process of transitioning the state’s fleet to E30, further maximizing the use of local fuels and revolutionizing the way we fuel our vehicles and our economy,” Noem said. “I have already met with heads of state governments on this initiative and we are working on a plan.”
While this decision may bring cost savings and emission reductions to state governments, while supporting the state economy, the EPA has not yet approved E30 for use in non-flex fuel vehicles.
About 11 months after his state of the state address, Noem, during a speech at an event at a GLE shareholder meeting, said the majority of the state’s fleet was already made up of flex-fuel vehicles and hoped to get more flex-fuel vehicles.
“It was not a policy that any former South Dakota governor had before,” she said. “56% of the state fleet is flex fuel today and we will continue to move in that direction.”
Beyond a 2018 Facebook post on Noem’s campaign account, which advocated transitioning the state fleet to E30 blends, she even proclaimed February 25, 2020 as Premium E30 Day in the state, drawing praise from industry leaders.
“The Governor’s proclamation helps increase public awareness of E30 as a renewable fuel option that also benefits air quality and public health as it replaces carcinogenic additives,” said Doug Sombke, president of the South Dakota Farmers Union. “We appreciate their continued support for higher ethanol blends.”
Although the South Dakota Administration Office was unable to provide the Mitchell Republic with an update on the number of vehicles in the state’s fleet or on E30 fueling, Kohl did. said GLE wanted confirmation as to whether the state has or will fully convert.
“As far as we know, all that’s been done is that the flex-fuel vehicles have been run on E30, which we know will work,” Kohl concluded, “but we want to see the whole fleet on E30. “