Study Shows Higher Ethanol Blends Reduce CO2 Emissions

Source: By Lura Roti, South Dakota Public Radio • Posted: Sunday, April 11, 2021

Ethanol Plant

Results from a recent University of Nebraska Study could dramatically increase demand for ethanol. This is optimistic news for South Dakota corn farmers, ethanol manufacturers and family farm advocates.

Redefining Renewable Fuels was a year-long study conducted by researchers from the University of Nebraska Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. The study’s data shows that non-flex vehicles can safely run on higher ethanol blends, like E30 and at the same time reduce carbon emissions.

These results could have big implications for corn producers, ethanol manufacturers and our environment, explains the study’s author and lead researcher, Rajib Saha.

“If 10 percent of the 1.7 million registered non-flex fuel vehicles that we have in Nebraska, if 10 percent of these vehicles converted from 10 percent to 30 percent ethanol, then these corresponding numbers are more than 18.5 million gallons more ethanol consumption per year and CO2 emissions decrease by 64,000 tons per year,” Saha says.

Saha designed the study to monitor the performance of 50 State of Nebraska fleet vehicles. Driven for one year between January 2019 and January 2020, 26 cars were fueled with 15 percent ethanol or E15 and 24 were fueled with 30 percent ethanol or E30. The non-flex fuel vehicles were six to eight years old. Saha’s team measured engine speed, engine timing, air temperature, CO2 emissions and 12 other parameters – in the end collecting millions and millions of data points.

“And we didn’t see any statistical difference between the E30 blend compared to what other blends that we use E10 and E15,” Saha says.

If drivers were to increase their ethanol consumption by 15 to 20 percent, the impact would be felt by the more than 11, 000 South Dakota corn farmers. Farmers like Keith Alverson who is a sixth-generation Chester, South Dakota producer.  Each harvest, 90 percent of Alverson’s corn crop is trucked 10 miles from his family’s farm fields to the Dakota Ethanol plant in Wentworth.

“Increasing demand is always important in a commodity market because we’ve seen the pace that our yields are going up with new technology and improved farming practices and the new genetics and things along that line, farmers tend to be just growing more, so having demand keep up and slightly outstrip our pace is something that is good from my eyes as a farmer,” Alverson says.

Alverson says the local market ethanol creates for corn benefits not only farmers, but also the entire community.

“Having that local demand really improved the basis…so that’s money in our pockets and money in our local communities and you know really gets turned over within our state, in my mind certainly better to have that then sending that money out of state,” Alverson says.

The fact that non-flex fuel vehicles experienced no negative side effects when they were fueled by 30 percent ethanol did not surprise Jim Seurer. Seurer is CEO of Glacial Lakes Energy Cooperative, an ethanol manufacturer headquartered about 85 miles north of the Alverson farm in Watertown. This year, its four plants are on target to buy some 123 million bushels of corn from farmers to produce nearly 360 million gallons of ethanol.

In 2016, Glacial Lakes Energy, partnered with local gas stations, drivers and area mechanics to implement a similar study. They called it the E30 Challenge. And since it began, drivers in Watertown and Aberdeen have purchased more than 7 million gallons of E30 and driven more than 150 million miles with no issues.

E30s ability to reduce CO2 emissions, however, was news to Seurer.

“Obviously as we look for ways to become more environmentally friendly, it really validates the role that ethanol can play,” Seurer says.

Corn farmer Keith Alverson agrees.

“We see big demand, just from the environmental aspects of ethanol and carbon is front and center on that. You know, states like California have a low carbon fuel standard, where they actually incentivize fuels that will reduce carbon emissions versus gasoline. Ethanol has been a key contributor and big player in that. Markets like that are driven off of the value of carbon and carbon reduction. Having a study like this that shows the amount of carbon emissions reduced, essentially turns into a demand driver. In my mind, the carbon aspect is really going to be the driver going forward for our ethanol markets,” Alverson says.

Currently the EPA has not approved non-flex fuel vehicles to run on E30. Rajib Saha says he wants to conduct one more study before the team recommends the EPA approve E30 for all vehicles.

Saha sees the second study looking a bit more like the E30 Challenge, where instead of testing fleet vehicles driven by state employees, everyday drivers would be asked to participate. He is hopeful this summer he can begin that study.

Visit SDPB.org to review the University of Nebraska study: https://ethanol.nebraska.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/E30-Demonstration-FINAL.pdf and results of the E30 Challenge: http://www.glaciallakesenergy.com/events/2016_E30_Challenge_Brochure.pdf

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