Value of E30 Proven in Real Time

Guest columnist for the Urban Air Initiative's Clearing the Air column writes about Glacial Lake Energy's E30 challenge in the November EPM.
By Jim Seurer | October 13, 2016

Our good friend and colleague Dave VanderGriend wrote in this column in April that a little place called Watertown, South Dakota, could be the beginning of a revolution in how we think about ethanol blends.  The E30 Challenge initiated by Glacial Lakes Energy tests the boundaries of conventional thinking—not to mention EPA restrictions—to encourage the voluntary use of premium gasoline made with 30 percent ethanol blends. With the support of ICM and others, we set out to dispel the myth that 2001 and newer nonflex autos can only operate, at most, on E15. Ultimately, the main purpose of this campaign is to drive change and help consumers recognize the value that higher blends of ethanol offer.

We are well-past the beginning, since our launch in the summer of 2015, and a lot has happened to validate our thinking. Automaker BMW announced it was recommending premium for its popular Mini Cooper and its warranties were good for 25 percent ethanol. During that same time, the U.S. DOE continued to quite publicly tout its work that identified high-octane fuels, including ethanol blends in the 25 to 40 percent volume range, as an optimum fuel for meeting future efficiency and greenhouse gas standards. Just last month, Nissan announced the introduction of a variable compression engine that could be a game changer for ethanol as it would adjust to various blends and negate any potential mileage loss. A new High Octane Low Carbon Alliance has been established, led by former Sen. Tom Daschle, a great friend to ethanol and father of the renewable fuel standard. And a former General Motors engineer recently wrote an article in a Washington newspaper stating ethanol is by far the fuel of choice from an engineer's perspective. Momentum is on our side as the value of ethanol for premium fuels is becoming widely recognized. 

What have we learned from our demonstration in Watertown of an E30 premium fuel in conventional vehicles? For starters, the oil company-led charge that ethanol damages engines is unfounded. After a year of monitoring our Premium E30 use, we have not had a single engine-related issue or complaint. To obtain real-time information, we connected performance data logging devices to about 50 test autos to compare engine performance with E10 and E30. While we are still in the process of collecting and analyzing this data, early indications bode well for Premium E30. We’ve learned there is no significant change in miles per gallon and we have documented proof that engines have more torque and more horsepower using Premium E30 fuel. Because ethanol is a cleaner burning fuel, we already knew that it’s much better for our environment. 

So, is E30 the right number? What about the E25-plus blends the Brazilians use, or some other volume? As noted, E25 is the volume specified by Mini Cooper, likely related to the fact that new hoses and pumps are certified up to 25 percent volume. However, current testing protocols used by ethanol supporters in cooperation with pump manufacturers test to the point of failure. We are absolutely convinced a hose or pump that can handle 25 percent can handle 30 percent or more. And while we are delighted to see this move toward a 25 percent volume, going to 30 percent offers significant benefits. 

The auto industry has repeatedly stated it would be able to achieve significant efficiency and emission gains with a 100 RON octane, which translates to a 93 to 94 AKI at the pump. Using today's ethanol blendstock, 25 percent ethanol falls just short. But adding 20 percent to E10 would reach the 100 RON number and do so without any difficulty, since we would be splash blending.

Sure, 25 percent volume is a great step forward and we'll gladly take it. But I encourage us all to not be boxed in by a random UL25 number that was created absent of any science or real world experience. E30 is proven to have the biggest bang for the buck in modern engines and provides the octane autos are asking for.

Author: Jim Seurer
CEO, Glacial Lakes Energy
[email protected]