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South Dakota tests ethanol blend in state vehicles

PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota is undergoing a test to determine how to best use ethanol.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard announced last month that the state will incorporate E15 — a fuel blend composed of 15 percent ethanol — into its vehicle fleet for six months. During the trial, E15 will be available for use in the state’s nearly 2,000 flex-fuel vehicles and newer-model nonflex-fuel vehicles at four major fuel sites in Brookings, Pierre, Rapid City and Sioux Falls. The sites previously offered only E10, which is 10 percent ethanol.

After the trial period, the state will evaluate how E15 affected the state fleet.

“South Dakota is a large ethanol producer, and our state has significantly benefited from the ethanol industry,” Daugaard said in a statement. “The goal is to use more of our homegrown fuel by using E15, the newest fuel in the marketplace.”

According to the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, the state’s 15 corn-based ethanol plants are capable of producing more than 1 billion gallons of ethanol per year. Poet, one of the world’s largest ethanol producers, is based in South Dakota. The company operates five ethanol plants in the state, accounting for about one-third of South Dakota’s total ethanol production capacity.

Poet CEO Jeff Lautt said the state’s support of E15 will help demonstrate the value of the fuel, which was approved in 2012 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for use in vehicle models 2001 and newer.

Lautt also expects South Dakota’s use of E15 to help raise consumer awareness of the fuel blend, which the industry needs to continue growing its market.

“There have been some terrific developments just in the last couple months that have gotten the ball rolling toward nationwide availability,” he said. “South Dakota’s recent commitment is one example, and we’ve seen some commercial commitments from MAPCO stations in the east and Minnoco in the Twin Cities. The early adopters will prompt others to follow suit in order to stay competitive.”

Lautt said the pending decision from the EPA regarding this year’s ethanol volume requirements as part of the Renewable Fuels Standard will also affect implementation of E15. If the agency reduces this year’s ethanol volume requirements as proposed, it will slow the adoption of E15 and deliver a blow to the nation’s ethanol producers.

Lautt said he expects the agency to deliver its final rule within the next few months and is hopeful that it will reverse its proposal. More than 200,000 comments were sent to the EPA, and much of that was due to a strong effort to provide input from biofuel advocates, he said.

“I think the message got through to the EPA, and I’m optimistic that they will change their proposal accordingly,” he said.