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Minnesota State University, Mankato
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No problems found in study of E20's effects on cars

Research by Minnesota State Mankato's MnCAR

A multi-year study by Minnesota State Mankato's Center for Automotive Research shows no harmful effects of a 20 percent ethanol blend on cars.

By Dan Linehan, Free Press Staff Writer [published in The Free Press, Mankato, MN, 3/23/2009]

The fruits, so far, of a $497,000 grant to Minnesota State University to study ethanol: A 20 percent blend appears to be no harder on vehicles than regular gasoline.

The study, led by Bruce Jones and Jim Rife in MSU’s automotive engineering technology department, has tested the effects of differ­ent blends of ethanol on the raw materials of a vehicle as well as fuel system parts.

Today all gas sold in Minnesota includes 10 per­cent ethanol. Some gas is 85 percent ethanol ( called E85). It’s the intermediate blends — between 10 per­cent and 85 percent — that MSU is studying.

It’s using regular vehi­cles, not the “flex fuel” mod­els specifically designed to run on high ethanol blends. Jones said research into the 20 percent blend has just been completed.

Tests on raw materials — the metals, plastics and rub­ber- like substances — found no problems with the E20 blend.

Likewise, fuel pumps using regular gasoline, E10 and E20 were run for 5,000 hours and there was no more wear and tear on the higher- ethanol blend.

The research is being done to support a Minnesota proposal to move to a 20 percent blend in all gasoline by 2012.

The E20 move will only happen if the Environmental Protection Agency accepts it, car man­ufacturers include it in their warranties, and it doesn’t make vehicles perform worse or damage them.

Some of these questions will be answered by MSU’s work, others have been doled out to different labs by the Department of Energy.

Long-term, Jones said the move to E20 will help the transition from corn-based ethanol to so- called “cellu­losic” ethanol, which can use much more of a plant for fuel and is more efficient.

Most of the research on cellulosic ethanol is done by corn ethanol producers, he said, so creating a market for corn ethanol helps create a market for all ethanol.

“It doesn’t really matter where the ethanol comes from,” Jones said. It’s the same chemical formula, and “the engine doesn’t really care.”

Plus, “most experts in ethanol would agree that the first step in cellulosic ethanol appears to be corn cobs,” he said. Ethanol is now produced from corn kernels — the small yellow parts — not the cob, the hard cylindrical core.

“I think of it as a stepping stone,” Jones said of corn-­based ethanol.

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