Nebraska study finds that conventional vehicles can use higher ethanol blend

Source: By Omaha World Herald • Posted: Tuesday, March 9, 2021

LINCOLN — Nebraska officials said Monday that a new study indicating that higher ethanol blends can be used in conventional vehicles could be a boon to corn farmers and the state’s $5 billion ethanol industry.

The study, which used state vehicles and University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers, suggested that nonflex-fuel vehicles could burn E-30 ethanol blends and get performance comparable to blends that use less of the corn-based fuel, such as E-10 or E-15.

If only 10% of the 1.7 million registered vehicles in the state switched to E-30, it would increase demand by 18.5 million gallons a year, the study estimated.

“It would be huge for the state of Nebraska and for the entire Corn Belt” if use of E-30 was approved, said Roger Berry, administrator of the Nebraska Ethanol Board. “Imagine if we could double or triple what we produce here in the state of Nebraska.”

Berry and others joined Gov. Pete Ricketts on Monday to unveil the results of a yearlong study that had 50 state vehicles, including 10 used by the Nebraska State Patrol, burn E-30 instead of lower percentage ethanol blends.

Ricketts said the study was similar to one done in the ‘70s in Nebraska that demonstrated that ethanol, then known as “gasohol,” could be safely used in regular car engines without damage and without harming performance. That study led to the increase in use of ethanol, which produces less greenhouse gases than conventional gasoline.

About 97% of the gasoline sold in the U.S. now contains some ethanol, Berry said.

Rajib Saha, an assistant professor of biomolecular engineering at UNL, said that if 10% of the state’s vehicles switched to E-30, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 64,000 tons a year.

Increased production of ethanol would, however, increase carbon emissions from ethanol plants. But Berry said that the Biden administration is proposing many steps to reduce or sequester CO2 emissions, and the ethanol industry is excited about the prospects for doing that. One ethanol plant in the state, he said, is already reducing its carbon emissions by using its CO2 to produce dry ice.

Under current EPA guidelines, only flex fuel vehicles — that have engines designed to handle a wide variety of ethanol blends — can use blends higher than E15

Berry and Ricketts said that the federal Environmental Protection Agency would have to take action to make it legal to use E-30 in nonflex-fuel vehicles. That process could take two years, they said.