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UNL Study: Non-Flex Fuel State Vehicles Run on 30% Ethanol with No Problems

South Dakota Farmers Union is touting a new study from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln finding non-flex fuel vehicles can run just as well on gasoline containing 30% ethanol as on the   15% ethanol blend.

In a study published last month, Professor Rajib Saha and assistants Adil Alsiyabi and Seth Stroh report the results of a year-long student on 50 vehicles: 2013 Dodge Avengers and 2014 Ford Fusions driven by the Nebraska Transportation Bureau and 2014–2015 Dodge Chargers driven by the Nebraska State Patrol. From June 1, 2019, to June 1, 2020, 24 of the cars ran on E30 while 26 ran on E15. The E30 cars covered 307,516 miles; the E15-ers covered 331,483 miles.

The E30 cars’ computers adjusted to the higher oxygen content, and nothing blew up:

Changes in On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) parameters were investigated to determine the long-term adaptability of vehicles to E30 fuel. Long-term fuel trim (LTFT) and O2 sensor readings were monitored to investigate whether the vehicle’s engine control module (ECM) can adapt to the increased oxygen concentration resulting from the added ethanol. The ECM controls the air/fuel ratio (AFR) by measuring the voltage generated through the oxygen sensor which indicates the proportion of oxygen in the exhaust. The distribution of these two parameters, recorded over an entire year, was compared between vehicles operating on E30 and those operating on E15. As expected, there was an average increase in the LTFT of vehicles operating on E30 (Figure 1A). However, the distribution of O2 sensor readings for the two conditions were similar (Figure 1A). This indicates that the ECM of the tested vehicles was able to account for the increased oxygen content in the fuel. Furthermore, a similar comparison was implemented on coolant temperatures from vehicles running on each fuel type (Figure 1B). As shown, the increase in ethanol concentration does not cause engine coolant temperature to change significantly. Finally, a multitude of more complex statistical data analyses were conducted to determine the effect of E30 on overall vehicle performance. Results from that analysis indicates no significant change in performance between the two fuel types [Dr. Rajib Saha, Adil Alsiyabi, and Seth Stroh, “Redefining Renewable Fuels: A Demonstration of the Long-Term Adaptability and Economic Feasibility of E30 Consunmption in Non-Flex Fuel Vehicles,” University of Nebraska–Lincoln: Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, February 2021].

The Nebraska results match those Drew Dennert said he found in his own at-home test of E30 on his vehicle in 2018 and align with the message South Dakota ethanol producers have been promoting for the last few years that we can safely run E-30 in our unadjusted vehicles.

Professor Saha concludes that switching the Nebraska Transportation and Patrol fleets from E15 to E30 would increase ethanol consumption by 66,000 gallons a year and decrease annual  carbon dioxide emissions by 529 tons. Getting 10% of Nebraska drivers to switch to E30 would increase annual ethanol consumption by 18.5 million gallons and decrease annual CO2 emissions by 64,000 tons.

Brown County is using E30 in its cars; the State of South Dakota only uses E30 in flex-fuel vehicles.


  1. John Dale 2021-03-29 07:47

    This would be a great way to take a bunch of vehicles off the road.

    “No problem” is not true.

    As I understand it, engine seals have a shorter life to withstand the degradation effects of alcohol.

    For an older vehicle, ethanol is like a double bacon cheeseburger to the 99 year old.

    Never mind the optics of starving people in foreign nations watching us BURN OUR FOOD FOR TRANSPORTATION.

    Almost as DUMB as using Ireland’s equivalent of power to mine bitcoins.

    Want to know how stupid Earth’s leadership can be?

    This stupid.

    I’m sad to report that, while ignorance can be fixed, stupid is forever.

  2. Kirsten Walrath-Noem 2021-03-29 10:00

    I run E30 in my non flex-fuel cars and have no problems.

    I don’t think I’m stupid, but thanks John. :)

  3. Darin Larson 2021-03-29 10:20

    John Dale:

    The next time I see a person eating number 2 yellow corn for human food will be the first time. Corn used for ethanol is the kind of corn that cattle, hogs and chickens eat–Not the kind of corn that people eat. Thus, saying we are burning our food for transportation is as false as me asserting you are depriving your community of food by growing a grass lawn in the yard around your house instead of a garden.

    The purpose of most corn grown by farmers is to create feed for animals that humans eat. In fact, ethanol is a fantastic complement to this goal of producing feed for animals that humans eat. As it turns out, the part of the corn kernel that is used up in producing ethanol is the starch. After the starch is used up in producing ethanol, what is left is the distillers dried grain (DDG’s). The DDG’s are a concentrated form of animal feed that is much higher in protein than the original corn and equivalent in energy. Thus, the value of the animal feed is enhanced and concentrated in a product that grows the beef, hogs, and poultry that most of the world likes to eat.

    By concentrating the protein and retaining the energy value for animal use in the DDG’s, ethanol allows us to have our steak, pork chops and chicken sandwiches and powers us to the store to get it, too. DDG’s replace soybean meal and corn in animal feed rations and thus offset much, if not all of the feed value of the corn that was used to make ethanol in the first place.

    There is always some urban legend about ethanol and the problems with it, usually backed by anecdotes and uninformed speculation as explanation for engine problems. When you don’t have a clue what is wrong with an engine or what caused a problem, blame ethanol! We have been running ethanol in engines in this country for literally over a hundred years, but somehow we are lead to believe by skeptics that it is not possible to do so with today’s modern computer controlled ignition engines? Brazil has been running varying amounts of ethanol in its national fuel supply up to and including 100% ethanol for decades, so the notion that E15 or even E30 would be problematic in the US is Big Oil propaganda.

    Ethanol is also an important part of what should be our national energy security strategy in the near term. If we haven’t learned a thing or two by now what disruptions to giant, centrally concentrated, energy supply chains can do to our economic well-being and our life in general, it is a sad commentary on history repeating itself. Giant oil refineries concentrated in the Gulf Coast region are a terrorist’s dream target, not to mention the weather related problems that can cascade into severe shortages in a matter of days or certainly weeks. Just in time delivery and supply means no time at all for supply disruptions. Though more should be done in this respect, ethanol plants scattered throughout the heartland of America are a hedge against disruptions that could occur with a more centrally maintained liquid fuel supply system.

    Finally, ethanol reduces green house gas emissions by an average of 46% over straight gasoline, so ethanol is at least a stepping stone on our journey to combat climate change.

  4. o 2021-03-29 11:17

    Isn’t there an MPG comparison that factors into any “cars off the road” analysis? If E85 gives 15% to 27% fewer MPG (, then isn’t it all a wash?

    Darin, the food use discussion would also have to account for market pull forces. Corn is produced now for ethanol because that is were the market lies (an indirect subsidy). If that were removed, then markets would adjust to new food opportunities.

    I still see all this as a literal smoke screen; the internal combustion engine needs to be retired.

  5. Kent Frerichs 2021-03-29 14:19

    E-30 should be the fuel of choice for all drivers of non-flex fuel vehicles. Darin Larson’s statements are exactly right, and he can prove each of them. This year long study by the University of Nebraska, validates everything that Glacial Lakes Energy (GLE) has been proving for the last five years with their E-30 Challenge. “Non-flex fuel vehicles are able to adapt to the higher oxygen content of E-30 and there was no effect on vehicle performance.” This is according to GLE CEO, Jim Seurer. “He further stated that in most cases, our tests indicated that vehicles actually performed better with the Premium E-30 (94 octane) than they did with E-10. Engine performance actually improved. Since the E-30 Challenge began in 2016, drivers in Watertown and Aberdeen have purchased more than 7 million gallons of E-30 and driven more than 150 million miles with no issues.” Doug Sombke, South Dakota Farmers Union President agrees with this concept. Sombke stated ” the results of this study takes the benefits of fueling up with higher ethanol blends to another level. This recent scientific data points to significant reductions in CO2 emissions and the study shows that the octane qualities of E-30 allow it to replace carcinogenic fuel additives making tailpipe emissions safer.” Seurer projected that if 100%of Nebraska drivers fueled up with E-30, ethanol consumption would increase to 185 million gallons and drivers could reduce CO2 emissions by 640,000 tons. Seurer concluded, ” Any state that has an ethanol presence should grab this study because the ethanol industry has such a big economic impact on states like South Dakota. This is a homegrown product that we can convert to a higher value product and reap the benefits.” It should also be noted that drivers usually save about $2. per tank fill. Just think of the economic impact on South Dakota if utilization of E-30 and higher blends became a reality. Governor Noem campaigned on placing the entire South Dakota motor pool on E-30. Perhaps the State’s policy should be reviewed and implemented.

  6. DaveFN 2021-03-29 16:40

    There’s plenty of controversy in this matter, and has been ever since the first 2005 Pimentel report from Cornell which unveiled the hidden costs of bioethanol from corn. Those who come down on one side of the equation only as advocates typically have something to sell and are thus are far from unbiased: sheer advocates of corn-derived bioethanol stand to gain something by it and therefore have a conflict of interest.

    Like everything else, there are pros and cons: it’s not as clear-cut from a science perspective as advocates would like people to believe. And corn is far from the sole biological source for bioethanol.

    Read a few pros and cons here in layman’s terms (the actual scientific literature itself is enormous):

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