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Ten Million Miles on E85: Who Says Small Engines Can�t Run on Ethanol?
by Chuck Beck

Small business owner Al Novstrup has heard it all when it comes to running ethanol in small engines.

“Here it is, about 10 years in to the industry, and it’s still amazing the number of people who firmly believe that if you put ethanol in a small engine if will be destroyed,” Novstrup said. “You can have any opinion you want, but we’ve got the facts right here.”

Those “facts” consist of 135 go-karts at his four Thunder Road Family Fun Park locations, each running on E85.

The Novstrup family owns and operates Thunder Roads in three South Dakota communities – Aberdeen, Sioux Falls and Watertown – and one in Fargo, North Dakota. Each of the 135 go-karts runs an average of 500 hours per year, and in the seven years Novstrup has run the go-karts on ethanol, the E85 has fueled the karts for nearly 10 million miles – 9,450,000 miles, to be exact.

Air quality was a key reason Novstrup made the switch away from running gasoline in his go-kart engines.

“If you have ever had gasoline in your face or exhaust from a car or a go-kart running on gasoline, you definitely know it’s a pollutant,” he said. With the smog from the gasoline-powered go-karts hanging in the air, the health of the children and families waiting in line became a concern for Novstrup, as well as the health of his employees working in the pit area.

He reports that after switching from gasoline to E85 in the go-karts, the air quality immediate improved and customer complaints came to an abrupt stop. Employees said that it was easier to breathe and the pit area was cleaner.

“On a regular basis people notice and thank us, and I think they do that because they enjoy the air quality, but also because they know the money stays in South Dakota and in the United States,” Novstrup said.

Critics of ethanol often claim that ethanol blends can have a devastating effect on small engines, but Novstrup says these on-track demonstrations are a great counter to that argument.

“We’ve got 135 engines that run constantly on E85, and we put in more wear and tear in a week than you would put on a lawn mower within 20 years,” he said.

Thunder Road uses two types of stock motors: a 6.5 horsepower Honda and a 9.0 horsepower Honda. Novstrup says the larger Honda motor in his go-karts is very similar to that which could be found in a lawnmower, except the go-kart engines are made to last longer.

To accommodate the switch from gasoline to E85, the go-karts engines were re-jetted to allow more fuel in to the cylinders. A new jet is a three- or four-dollar item, plus about 10 minutes of installation. No changes were to any metals or rubber seals, and Novstrup says that no unusual wear has occurred.

If these go-karts can run hard and operate well on E85, would an average-use small engine be able to handle E15 instead of E10? He believes the answer is yes.

Novstrup, who also serves in the South Dakota State Legislature as a Senator from District 3, has contacted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and submitted formal comments in favor of approving E15 as a new base blend of ethanol. He says he supports a move to an E15 blend because of what it could do for the environment, the economy, and for the country as a whole.

In his letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Novstrup wrote: “To me, my go-kart engines run healthier on E85, both by improving the engine quality and the amount of miles able to be driven, and by improving air quality for my customers and my employees.”

“While I understand that this waiver request is for a higher blend than E10, not for E85 in a small engine that has been slightly modified, I still recognize that small engine manufacturers and owners have expressed legitimate concerns about using up to E15 in small engines,” Novstrup continued. “My story illustrates that with a few minor adjustments to go-kart engines, air quality and vehicle longevity has remarkably improved… Because of my own success with improving the quality of air that customers and employees alike are exposed to upon attending Thunder Road Family Fun Parks, I emphatically urge EPA to endorse a move to E15 blends.”

Visit Thunder Road Family Fun Parks online:

Thunder Road’s small engine E85 story featured on YouTube

A video showcasing Thunder Road’s success with E85 go-karts can now be seen on the American Coalition for Ethanol’s YouTube channel,

© American Coalition for Ethanol, all rights reserved.
The American Coalition for Ethanol publishes Ethanol Today magazine each month to cover the biofuels industry�s hot topics, including cellulosic ethanol, E85, corn ethanol, food versus fuel, ethanol�s carbon footprint, E10, E15, and mid-range ethanol blends.
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