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The Associated Press September 9, 2010, 3:28PM ET

SD flex-fuel vehicles test lower ethanol blend

South Dakota officials are trying out a lower ethanol blend in the state's fleet of flexible fuel vehicles after preliminary tests indicated E85 wasn't saving any money.

State pumps that were carrying the 85 percent gas-ethanol blend in Rapid City, Sioux Falls and Pierre are now dispensing E30 as part of a yearlong test to find the optimum blend of fuel that will provide the best mileage at the best cost, said Mike Mueller, spokesman for the Bureau of Administration.

"We wanted to make sure we were getting the most out of those fuel purchases," Mueller said Thursday.

South Dakota's 1,290 flexible fuel vehicles make up 37 percent of the state's fleet of 3,442. The state has been purchasing flex-fuel vehicles when possible to support the renewable fuels industry.

The E85 tests ran through the end of June. Tests on the 30 percent blend will run through the end of the year.

Although E85 was 23 cents per gallon cheaper than the standard 10 percent ethanol blend, tests showed that the 23 percent decrease in gas mileage negated the cost savings. The net result was a 1.49 cent cost-per-mile operating increase in the E85 vehicles, Mueller said.

Rob Skjonsberg of Poet, the nation's top ethanol producer, said the best option for drivers would be an open fuel market and consumer choice through blender pumps, which allow motorists to select the amount of ethanol in their fuel - from 10 percent up to 20, 30 and 85 percent ethanol.

"Recent studies show that midlevel blends such as E20-E40 are the most efficient and economical blends of ethanol. So, I can't disagree with their move from E85 to E30," Skjonsberg, Poet's senior vice president of public policy and corporate affairs, said in a statement. "We're confident that the data from an E30 state fleet test will further validate that midlevel ethanol blends are the best for the consumer and the taxpayer."

The Bureau of Administration is hoping its tests will determine which blend level gives the best mileage at the best cost and benefits taxpayers.

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