Are you ready for the E30 Challenge?

by Dave Vander Griend, President Urban Air Initiative

Who would have ever thought that a little place like Watertown, South Dakota might be a trend setter for the rest of the nation? No, not for the latest fashion or a new dance craze, but for a fundamental change in the way we fuel our automobiles.

Watertown is challenging conventional wisdom in order for biofuels like ethanol to finally realize their true potential. That conventional wisdom is that our non-flex autos can only operate on 10% ethanol blends and at most, 15%.

It took the Iranian oil embargoes of the late 1970s to spark a renewed interest in ethanol and “gasohol” was born as a mix of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline. But 10% volume blends should never have been the baseline – cars then and now are capable of using much higher blends and the auto industry knows it. In fact the optimum blend to maximize octane and energy content is in the 25 – 40% volume range, according to the Department of Energy.

So what does this have to do with Watertown? Well, a revolution has to start somewhere and Glacial Lakes Energy, a local ethanol plant, is spearheading an “E30 Challenge” by encouraging everyone to use blends up to E30 regardless of whether they have a flex fuel vehicle.

The goal of the E30 challenge is to increase the amount of ethanol that is chosen at the local blending pump and show the EPA that mid-level blends are proven to work in non-flex vehicles. Glacial Lakes Energy is collecting data on how E30 responds in 50 different make and model vehicles. The data will be used to hopefully get the attention of the EPA.

To get the attention of the community, they are focused on educating and promoting the E30 Challenge with print and radio ads, as well as seminars with dealerships, technical colleges,and automotive technician clinics. The retailers are also educated on the value of octane, clean air, and local jobs. At the Urban Air Initiative we are actively engaged in this project as it completely supports our push for higher ethanol blends to improve fuel quality, reduce emissions, and protect public health.

First and foremost, we want to demonstrate that the so-called blend wall, is a myth and auto makers are helping us prove that point. For instance, in its 2016 owners’ manual, BMW’s Mini Hardtop recently endorsed the use of E25 higher octane blends in its standard (non-flex fuel) vehicles. Mercedes-Benz engineers have urged the EPA to approve the use of high octane E30 blends because they have “ridiculous power and good fuel economy”. All gasoline-powered vehicles in Brazil efficiently operate on blends of at least 27% ethanol (E27). And a recent study by Ford, GM, and Chrysler found that E30’s higher octane could improve vehicle performance and mileage and that even non-calibrated standard vehicles could benefit from ethanol’s superior octane properties.

So why don’t American motorists have access to these higher blends?  Because the EPA refuses to certify E30 test fuels for commercial use and prohibits the use of E30 blends in standard vehicles, even though many experts confirm that such vehicles are identical to so-called “flex-fuel” vehicles (FFVs).

With a focused message to dealers, mechanics, and employees at auto parts stores,   the E30 Challenge will continue to provide positive and accurate information. Once this education method is refined, Urban Air Initiative intends to take the package to the next town, and the next.

Today, all vehicles are approved for E10 blends, nearly 80% are approved for 15%, and we may be on our way to 30%, thanks to a little place called Watertown.

Are you ready for the E30 Challenge in your town?