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E30 safe for use in non-flex fuel vehicles – University of Nebraska-Lincoln study

In the United States (US), the results of an E30 demonstration project conducted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) with support from the Nebraska State Department of Administrative Services (DAS) have been presented by Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts. The ground-breaking research clearly demonstrates that E30, gasoline blended with 30 percent ethanol, is safe for long-term use in non-flex fuel vehicles (FFVs). 

The results of an E30 demonstration project conducted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) with support from the Nebraska State Department of Administrative Services (DAS) have been presented by Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts during a briefing on March 8, 2021 (photo courtesy Governor’s Office).

A team at the UNL Engineering Department—led by Dr Rajib Saha, Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering—completed a summary of the E30 demonstration and reported the safety of using the fuel in non-FFVs.

The team reached its conclusion after a yearlong demonstration, permitted by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), compared various data points among a fleet of state-owned, non-FFVs.

The research partnership between the State and the University clearly demonstrates that E30 is a safe and reliable fuel for vehicles. Ethanol saves drivers money at the pump, is good for air quality, and creates opportunities for our farm families. This study will be a great aid as we advocate for growing the volume of E30 in our nation’s fuel supply. In turn, rising demand for E30 biofuel will benefit Nebraska’s corn growers who supply 35 percent of their crop to our state’s ethanol industry, said Governor Ricketts during a briefing on March 8, 2021.

Completed during February 2021, the full results of the demonstration will be released after the report “Redefining Renewable Fuels. A demonstration of the long-term adaptability and economic feasibility of E30 consumption in non-flex fuel vehicles” has been peer-reviewed.

There has been inconsistent messaging that using higher blends of ethanol reduces the fuel efficiency or wears down parts. But what the results show is that none of that is true. By going through rigorous testing, we’ve proven that higher ethanol blends do not decrease efficiency or compromise engine performance. Our goal was to find out if the vehicles on the road today can use ethanol blends up to E30 with no loss in fuel mileage and no mechanical issues, said Adil Alsiyabi, the primary UNL researcher of the E30 demonstration.

The demonstration captured data using On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) devices on approximately 50 vehicles through both warm and cold seasons. When the engine was started, the device captured millions of data points, giving UNL researchers an opportunity to monitor fuel efficiency, vehicle performance, emissions control systems, and many more systems.

In addition, drivers kept a log each time they filled up and provided their experience in regards to maintenance and efficiency.

DAS is proud to have been a part of this successful E30 pilot study. Our team with Transportation Services Bureau has done a great job working alongside state and federal partners to deliver accurate and reliable data for the study, said DAS Director Jason Jackson

Expected yet encouraging results

Under the US EPA current guidelines, only FFVs can use blends higher than E15. This demonstration confirms that today’s conventional vehicles can safely and economically use E30.  Since ethanol is made locally from Nebraska (NE) corn, it is often cheaper than other gasoline options.

We were not surprised by the results. I am encouraged that we now have hard facts that show E30 can safely be used in vehicles other than flex fuels. Our next step will be to demonstrate this to the EPA and auto manufacturers and to change their recommendations. I personally have been a long-time user of higher ethanol blends in my conventional vehicles and have had no issues. Ethanol is a widely studied fuel. More people will start to see ethanol’s benefits as we continue to provide the facts through projects like this, said Roger Berry, Administrator for the Nebraska Ethanol Board.

Ethanol also replaces toxic chemicals found in gasoline with renewable octane—making it a healthier, cleaner fuel.

Using E30 is just as effective in eliminating carbon emissions as electric vehicles (EVs) when you compare ‘well to wheel’ emissions of the two types of vehicles. That puts ethanol in a good position to help achieve our climate goals as a nation said Jan tenBensel, Chairman of the Nebraska Ethanol Board.

Making E30 more widely available will also help the ethanol industry stay competitive among transportation innovations as the country works to reduce its carbon footprint. Traffic is one of the highest contributors to carbon pollution which has been linked to cancer, heart disease, and increased respiratory issues.

By using fuels blended with ethanol, drivers reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 46 percent. According to Growth Energy, a national ethanol organization, if the U.S. transitioned from E10 to E15, greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) would be lowered by 17.62 million tons per year. Increasing the amount of ethanol in the blend will continue to decrease harmful emissions.

Berry said the Nebraska Ethanol Board plans to work with industry partners and the EPA to continue E30 demonstrations, which have gained interest from other state governors.

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