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E20 and late-model vehicles

U professor studies the impact of blended gasoline on cars and trucks

From eNews, April 17, 2008

The results of a 13-month study from the University of Minnesota show that E20 --a blend of fuel containing 80 percent gasoline and 20 percent ethanol--has no negative impact on the drivability and maintenance of late-model cars and trucks.

The findings come at a time when Minnesota has requested a waiver to allow E20 to be used in the state. (For ethanol blends higher than 10 percent to be used (not including E85), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must issue a waiver.) The more commonly used fuel blend of ethanol and gasoline in the United States is E10, which contains 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline.

In 2005, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a bill requiring E20 in all gasoline by 2013, unless ethanol has already replaced 20% of the state's motor fuel by 2010.

"The study did not reveal any difference that might be associated with the use of E20 on normal on-road vehicles," said David Kittelson, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the primary investigator of the study. "This should prove helpful for the state's interest in changing fuel regulations."

The study looked at two main aspects of cars driven with E20--drivability and maintenance. Every day for the 13-month duration of the study, University drivers--maintenance workers, users of the University's fleet of rental cars, and police officers--used one of either 40 cars running on E20 or 40 cars running on E0. Other than the choice of fuel, the cars used were identical (All vehicles were fuel-injected and some included hybrid models; model years 2000-06 vehicles from Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, and Toyota.) Drivers were then asked to fill out a daily questionnaire to determine drivability and maintenance issues, such as ease in starting the car or the occurrence of stalling.

A group of professional drivers also drove nearly two dozen cars running on E20 on a professional driving course, where the cars were submitted to more rigorous driving tests. These tests were conducted a total of four times, once during each season of the year.

Results from both University and professional drivers showed no statistically significant differences between cars running on E20 and ones running on E10. Two maintenance issues found were attributed to random error.

Results of the study will now be presented to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to officially determine E20's suitability for on-road vehicles. Kittelson says he hopes to next look at the suitability of E20 in smaller engines, such as ones in lawnmowers, snowmobiles, and all-terrain vehicles.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the Council of Great Lakes Governors, Minnesota Corn Growers Association, and the Renewable Fuels Association sponsored the study. Work was done in collaboration with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Commerce. The University of Minnesota's Fleet Services provided all cars for the study.