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Ethanol production in Iowa ticked slightly upward in 2017, according to an industry group.

Iowa's 43 ethanol plants produced a record 4.2 billion gallons in 2017, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association said Thursday. The increase from 4.1 billion last year was mostly due to plant expansions, increased demand and higher blends like E15, the organization said.

"Iowa continues to lead the country and the world in ethanol production and efficiency," said Monte Shaw, executive director of the association.

He added that several plant expansions had just finished or would do so in the first three months of next year, which could push numbers for 2018 higher.

He said that prospect makes it imperative to expand export markets and break down "unnecessary barriers" to E15 in the United States.

The sale of E15 is limited in many parts of the country in the summer months because of ozone concerns.

In Iowa, the association said its top priority for the upcoming 2018 legislative session will be to secure more funding to help retailers get the equipment necessary to accommodate higher blends of ethanol.

The higher production figures unveiled Thursday come off a contentious year for renewable fuels. The federal Environmental Protection Agency had considered changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard, which industry officials and their political supporters said would undermine the 2005 law and hurt farm states.

The RFS requires that a certain amount of renewable fuels be blended into the nation's gasoline supply.

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