Passing the Test with Flying Colors
The E30 Challenge passed the test—from the organizers to the participants, praise was heaped on the program sponsored by Glacial Lakes Energy LLC in Watertown, South Dakota.
The E30 Challenge, which ran from fall 2015 to fall 2016, was designed to show motorists they could safely use E30 fuel. The study focused on two aspects: dynamometer testing to show that modern vehicles can adapt and use higher-octane fuels, and collection of real-world, on-road data showing vehicles fueled with E30 still operate within the vehicles’ calibration range set up by the manufacturers’ engineers.
Watertown was an ideal location for the challenge because it has one of the largest, if not the largest, infrastructure of blender pumps in the United States, says Marcy Kohl, Glacial Lakes Energy corporate communications manager. “We have over 40 blender pumps in Watertown and we’re the size of about 22,000 people. We thought we would be the perfect fit because we had the infrastructure.” The E30 Challenge was launched to increase awareness of the fuel and where to get it, and to encourage people to try using E30 in their vehicles, whether they were flex fuel or not. “We knew it would work, but we wanted other people to try it,” she says.
Before Glacial Lakes Energy launched the challenge, it wanted to be sure key people were well-informed, Kohl says. “We could promote E30 all day long and get consumers to use it, but the first time they went to their auto technicians and they say, ‘That stuff is junk, don’t use it,’ our efforts are in vain.” Challenge organizers talked to area technicians, the automotive department at the Lake Area Technical Institute, retailers and car dealerships.
Talking to area auto technicians and giving them information about E30 was key, because many times they blame check engine lights on the ethanol content of the fuel, says Andy Wicks, owner of DynoTune Speed and Performance in Watertown. Wicks provided professional expertise and helped conduct the E30 Challenge. “We were able to dispel a lot of myths. We were trying to provide them with good information that is real so the technicians can use it to repair vehicles properly, rather than having them say, ‘Don’t use ethanol because you’re going to have a problem.' We’re actually showing them what’s going on and that’s why the program is so successful, I believe. A lot of those technicians actually stated using E30 in their cars based on our findings,” Wicks says.
Besides educating auto technicians and others working with vehicles, Glacial Lakes Energy also worked to inform organizations operating fleets of vehicles. “We worked with the Watertown Police Department. They have a large group of vehicles. Theirs were flex fuel, but they weren’t using flex fuel,” Kohl says. “We worked with some electrical cooperatives. We’re a farmer-owned cooperative and so are they." The challenge organizers also reached out to the Watertown Trolley which operates in the city during the summer. “We thought it was a great way to advertise and to prove the trolley runs on E30,” Kohl says.
After Glacial Lakes Energy launched the educational part of the E30 challenge, it purchased data loggers. “We wanted to have some sound evidence to submit to the U.S. EPA to prove that E30 works in nonflex-fuel vehicles,” Kohl says. The data loggers—memory boxes that plug into the vehicles’ Onboard Diagnostic—were the same kind EPA uses to record data.
Once the data loggers were ready, the E30 Challenge advertised for participants. “They couldn’t be a shareholder or connected to the ethanol industry in any way," Kohl says. "We had participants driving all makes and models." The 40 vehicles in the challenge were labeled so that everyone would know they were test vehicles. During the Challenge, participants filled their tanks three times with E10 and three times with E30 and then were asked to talk about how their vehicles drove with the fuels. Meanwhile, the data loggers recorded statistical information about the vehicles’ performance.
The official test results showed:
• Modern vehicles filled with E30, could adapt to higher octane to improve performance and increase power.
• All vehicles tested adapted to E30 staying within the OEM computer calibration range.
• No difference in average miles per gallon was found, with smaller engines showing the best response.
• Savings amounted to .0137 cents per mile, with a projected annual savings of more than $200 per vehicle.
• There were no check engine lights as a result of using E30.
“What we found is all cars ’96 and newer have enough capacity in the factory fuel injection (system) to accommodate up to 30 percent ethanol—no check engine lights, no drivability problems,” Wicks says. Wicks, long a believer in using ethanol to fuel vehicles, was not surprised at the E30 Challenge study results. “At DynoTune Speed and Performance, we concentrate on high-performance, mostly fuel-injected street cars—Corvettes, Mustangs, Camaros, things like that. In 2005, 2006, we started using E85 and a number of ethanol blends as a substitute for racing fuel. We were comparing $12- to $15- a gallon race gas with the fuel that was available at the pump in the high performance cars. We were able to transition a lot of engines efficiently and safely and we made some pretty significant horsepower (improvement) with it,” Wicks says.
Jared Landmark, CEO of Sioux Valley Co-op station in Watertown, participated in the E30 Challenge using three vehicles, a 2007 GMC company pickup truck, a 2014 Ford F150 company pickup and his own 2006 Nissan Armada. All three were nonflex-fuel vehicles. None of them had performance issues during or after the challenge, Landmark says. “No mechanical issues, no warning light.”
Another reason to use E30 is that the corn used to produce the ethanol is grown locally by the farmer-owners of the Sioux Valley Co-op, he says. “It’s a no-brainer. I think this teaming up with the local Glacial Lakes Energy has been a great thing. We wanted to get out to the public what this product is about.” Business hasn’t seen a drop since the E30 Challenge, so people apparently were convinced about the merits of the fuel, Landmark notes. “People got a taste of what it is: it increases horsepower, is good for the environment and cheaper. I always like to get the less expensive in as a last note. But it really is a consumer choice based not only on other factors, but on price, too.”
Glacial Lakes Energy spread the word about the positive findings of the study through personal testimonies from the participants via radio, television and print advertisements. Challenge organizers believed that having the people who participated in the challenge telling about how their vehicles performed using E30 was more powerful than the organizers talking about it, Kohl says. Now the E30 Challenge is completed in Watertown, she adds, Glacial Lakes Energy hopes to launch it elsewhere.
“From here we would like to find the next Watertown. We think somewhere out there, there has to be another town in the United States that has a similar infrastructure with blender pumps and an ethanol plant. We would like to roll this out town by town, getting more people to use [E30],” Kohl says.
The trend of using E30 fuel is going to grow, Landmark says. “I think it starts here in the grass roots of South Dakota and becomes bigger.”
Informing people about E30 is key to increasing usage and the results of the study provides sound, positive information to present to them, says Brad Brunner, Glacial Lakes Energy marketing manager. “We continue to present the information, and hopefully, if you tell your story long enough, people realize it’s better for America to use E30 and higher-octane fuels, in general, and to support American-made products. The [E30 study] gives us great confidence we’re on the right path.”
Author: Ann Bailey
Associate Editor, Ethanol Producer Magazine