Should you be con­cerned about the ethanol limit in petrol in­creas­ing po­ten­tially to 10%? Rob Mar­shall wades through the pro­pa­ganda to dis­cover how E10 might af­fect the typ­i­cal mo­torist.

Car Mechanics (UK) - - E10 Investigat­ion -

The procla­ma­tion that the UK gov­ern­ment will ban new com­bus­tion-pow­ered cars and vans from 2040 was a state­ment of in­tent to slash CO2 from road trans­port. The sub­se­quent an­nounce­ment (that, cu­ri­ously, was fol­lowed by a con­sul­ta­tion) on whether the date could be brought back to 2035, or ear­lier, seemed some­what pre­ma­ture, es­pe­cially when there is no clear step-by-step strat­egy through which al­ter­na­tives can be in­tro­duced.

Sim­i­lar con­cerns in­volve in­tro­duc­ing E10 petrol, which con­tains up to 10% ethanol, com­pared to the cur­rent 5%. While a Call for Ev­i­dence was pre­sented in 2018, close ex­am­i­na­tion of the cur­rent con­sul­ta­tion’s doc­u­ments (on which com­ments are wel­comed un­til April

19th www.gov.uk/gov­ern­ment/ con­sul­ta­tions/in­tro­duc­ing-e10-petrol) sug­gests that the UK Gov­ern­ment is not nec­es­sar­ily ask­ing “should we in­tro­duce E10 petrol?” but “how should we in­tro­duce E10 petrol?” Even so, The Depart­ment for Trans­port (DFT) told CM that no for­mal de­ci­sion has been made about whether, or not, to in­tro­duce E10 at the time of writ­ing. How­ever, it seems very likely. One rea­son is con­sid­er­able lob­by­ing by the Bri­tish bio-ethanol in­dus­try, which has an ob­vi­ous agenda. Yet, it is wor­ry­ing that hardly any work has been done to in­ves­ti­gate how E10 will af­fect the av­er­age Bri­tish mo­torist. As an ex­am­ple, the In­sti­tute of Me­chan­i­cal Engi­neers is one body that has rec­om­mended the gov­ern­ment to roll-out E10 – but it ad­mit­ted to CM that has not done any re­search on whether, or not, the new ‘eco-fuel’ will dam­age cars. This ar­ti­cle hopes to re­store a de­gree of bal­ance.

The lat­est updates

2018’s pub­lic ‘call for ev­i­dence’ on

E10 was part of an ex­er­cise to col­late in­for­ma­tion and ed­u­cate motorists about petrol (and diesel) bio-fuel content, should E10 be launched for­mally. One rea­son might be to avoid a re­peat of the dis­as­trous and al­most hys­ter­i­cal boy­cotting of E10, when it was in­tro­duced in Ger­many nine years ago. This is a ben­e­fit of last year’s fuel pump re­la­belling ex­er­cise, to high­light and fa­mil­iarise the pub­lic with the fu­els’ bio-fuel content, even though the change was nec­es­sary to com­ply with Euro­pean Di­rec­tives on la­belling stan­dard­i­s­a­tion.

It is worth not­ing that a num­ber of EU coun­tries have adopted E10 but, cur­rently, UK petrol re­tains ‘E5’, mean­ing that our petrol con­tains a max­i­mum of 5% ethanol, al­though 3-4% is re­puted to be a more re­al­is­tic av­er­age. While E10 is pop­u­lar on the con­ti­nent, it is also es­pe­cially preva­lent in North Amer­ica, in­ci­den­tally.

The en­vi­ron­men­tal rea­son­ing

Ethanol was blended with UK petrol dur­ing the Noughties as a re­new­able ad­di­tion to help re­duce reliance on fos­sil fu­els and make road trans­port a lit­tle ‘greener’. To­day, even when ex­clud­ing avi­a­tion and ship­ping, the trans­port sec­tor is re­spon­si­ble for over a quar­ter of the UK’S to­tal CO2 emis­sions. There­fore, the gov­ern­ment wants to slash the fig­ure, es­pe­cially since Theresa May com­mit­ted Bri­tain legally to achieve net-zero car­bon emis­sions by 2050, be­fore her teary res­ig­na­tion from No 10 last sum­mer.

De­spite elec­tric ve­hi­cle sales grow­ing, the up­take is in­suf­fi­cient to pro­vide a short­term an­swer. In­creas­ing petrol’s ethanol content is a sure way to re­duce the car­bon diox­ide fig­ures, that is, ac­cord­ing to the bio-ethanol in­dus­try that is push­ing the gov­ern­ment for E10’s roll­out, to en­sure its com­mer­cial sur­vival. How­ever, when a lead­ing bio-fu­els pro­po­nent told CM that ethanol is ‘in­nocu­ous’ in the real world, we had to dig a lit­tle deeper to dis­cover if that as­ser­tion is true.

Smoke and mir­rors?

If ethanol-blended fu­els were harm­less, why would the re­spected Ger­man mo­tor­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion, ADAC, re­port that a sin­gle tank­ful “can cause se­ri­ous, last­ing dam­age”, if used in a non-com­pat­i­ble ve­hi­cle, a view that is shared by a num­ber of car­mak­ers? In E10’s de­fence, it does not ruin en­gines. In 1981, the North Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Au­to­mo­tive Engi­neers ran sev­eral new 2.3-litre petrol units for 20 hours un­der mid-load con­di­tions and con­cluded that E10 did not in­crease engine wear lev­els sig­nif­i­cantly, com­pared to reg­u­lar US un­leaded gaso­line of the time. While greater wa­ter content in the oil, plus slightly el­e­vated lev­els of camshaft fol­lower, valve guide and No.2 pis­ton ring wear, were noted post-test, these were not sig­nif­i­cant.

While CM is un­aware of any lab­o­ra­tory tests con­ducted more re­cently on mod­ern en­gines, with their tighter tol­er­ances, dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als and new lu­bri­cant and petrol com­po­si­tions, it still seems un­likely that E10 harms en­gines di­rectly. Ethanol can still cause dam­age in­di­rectly, by

af­fect­ing the fuel in­jec­tion, in­let and lu­bri­ca­tion sys­tems, how­ever. It is the re­duced ca­pac­ity of these sys­tems to work at their op­ti­mum ef­fi­ciency that causes pre­ma­ture engine wear, along with higher fuel con­sump­tion and emis­sions, that un­der­mine E10’s en­vi­ron­men­tal cre­den­tials.

While di­rect fuel in­jec­tion (GDI) raised engine ef­fi­ciency and re­duced CO2 out­puts, a down­side was that the more pre­cise, high-pres­sure fuel in­jec­tion com­po­nents be­came less tol­er­ant of de­vi­at­ing fuel spec­i­fi­ca­tions. Early GDI en­gines from the Noughties are likely to be harmed by E10, with the alu­minium com­po­nents inside the ex­pen­sive high­pres­sure fuel pumps es­pe­cially at risk of cor­ro­sion at­tack, trig­gered from the first time E10 is used and can­not be stopped.

In 2011, ADAC found that a brand-new high-pres­sure fuel pump of its E10in­com­pat­i­ble 2.2-litre Opel/vaux­hall Signum test ve­hi­cle failed after only 27,000 kilo­me­tres of run­ning on petrol con­tain­ing 10% ethanol. In­ter­est­ingly, the Volk­swa­gen Group’s first-gen­er­a­tion FSI engine is the most com­mon non-e10 com­pat­i­ble ve­hi­cle on UK roads.

While the DFT di­rected us to its tests, car­ried-out on ve­hi­cles run­ning on E10, we no­ticed that the cars used were vir­tu­ally new and, there­fore, are un­rep­re­sen­ta­tive of an av­er­age car on Bri­tish roads. The DFT re­sponded that new car mod­els are Type Ap­proved tested for emis­sions and fuel con­sump­tion re­sults in Europe us­ing E10. Yet, it could nei­ther con­firm if E10 was used as a ref­er­ence fuel to Type Ap­prove older cars of av­er­age age in the UK (stand­ing at al­most eight years), nor if it had con­ducted any re­search about the ef­fects of E10 on such ve­hi­cles that ex­pe­ri­ence Bri­tish cli­mates and drive-cy­cles.

Fight­ing in­creased de­posits at the top

Ac­cord­ing to the AMF (Ad­vanced Mo­tor Fu­els), E10 con­tains sul­phates and cop­per that in­tro­duce gum for­ma­tion and pro­mote fuel in­jec­tor de­posits. JLM Lubricants of the Nether­lands high­lights that, aside from act­ing as fuel, petrol pos­sesses a lu­bri­ca­tion qual­ity but, be­cause ethanol lacks such prop­er­ties, the dura­bil­ity of fuel sys­tem com­po­nents could be re­duced, un­less ex­tra ad­di­tives are blended with the fuel at the re­fin­ery to coun­ter­act the prob­lem. Con­sider also that ethanol is hy­gro­scopic and can hold wa­ter in sus­pen­sion, en­hanc­ing the risk of cor­ro­sion within the fuel sys­tem.

From its ex­pe­ri­ence of the North Amer­i­can mar­ket, BG Prod­ucts re­ports that the ad­di­tional oxy­gen present within E10 ac­cel­er­ates the fuel’s age­ing process. This causes, what the com­pany calls, ‘dam­ag­ing de­posits’ be­ing formed post-com­bus­tion that it states are caused typ­i­cally by ethanol. ITW Ad­di­tives In­ter­na­tional, mak­ers of the renowned Wynn’s and Forté ranges, con­curred and told us that ethanol­blended petrol tends to be more acidic. The re­sul­tant incomplete com­bus­tion causes more de­posits to be cir­cu­lated via the ex­haust gas re­cir­cu­la­tion (EGR) and the in­take sys­tems. Con­se­quences in­clude higher ex­haust emis­sions, poor run­ning, cat­alytic con­verter fail­ure, stick­ing in­let valves, plus EGR valve/ swirl-flap block­ages/re­stric­tions.

Fight­ing de­posits at the bot­tom

Ac­cord­ing to the Royal So­ci­ety of Chem­istry, as bioethanol is blended with gaso­line at in­creas­ingly higher con­cen­tra­tions, the build-up of fuel in the crank­case/sump could be sig­nif­i­cant. There­fore, engine oils must com­bat ethanol’s ten­dency to com­pro­mise a ve­hi­cle’s lu­bri­ca­tion sys­tem.

David Wright, Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of the Uk-based Ver­i­fi­ca­tion of Lu­bri­ca­tion Spec­i­fi­ca­tions (VLS) adds that, be­cause bio­fu­els are less sta­ble than other fu­els

and ox­i­dise eas­ily, in­creased engine oil thick­en­ing re­sults, which re­stricts lu­bri­cant flow.

While Lu­cas Oil of North Amer­ica states that much of the fuel that en­ters the sump evap­o­rates at higher tem­per­a­tures via the crank­case breather, ITW Ad­di­tives In­ter­na­tional states that this is harder for E10, due to its ethanol content, which can has­ten engine oil de­te­ri­o­ra­tion. Lu­cas Oil agrees, but adds that ethanol does not mix thor­oughly in mo­tor oil. In the­ory, there­fore, higher lev­els of oil di­lu­tion from the fuel could al­low slid­ing metal parts to be ex­posed to sur­faces wet with ethanol, in­stead of lu­bri­cant.

While it is well-es­tab­lished that short jour­neys, low coolant/oil tem­per­a­tures and skipped ser­vic­ing in­crease oil de­posits, ITW re­ports that engine sludge could be­come more preva­lent, should the ethanol content in UK petrol be in­creased. Oliver Kuhn, deputy head of LIQUI MOLY’S oil lab­o­ra­tory in Ger­many, high­lights that Hy­brid ve­hi­cles may suf­fer es­pe­cially from in­creased de­posits in their oil, be­cause their E10-fu­elled com­bus­tion en­gines tend to be run less fre­quently at higher tem­per­a­tures.

LIQUI MOLY adds that ethanol’s 4% wa­ter content forms more acids, which de­creases engine oil ph val­ues and re­duces vis­cos­ity and short­ens its life. While this sounds alarm­ing, both Mr Kuhn and Mr Wright agree that these is­sues should not pose a prob­lem for mod­ern engine oils, be­cause the lat­est lubricants are for­mu­lated to ad­dress these tech­ni­cal chal­lenges for petrol con­tain­ing up to 20% ethanol. How­ever, as Mr Wright re­vealed that older lu­bri­cant for­mu­la­tions are de­signed for fu­els that were avail­able at that time of their de­vel­op­ment, it is pos­si­ble that these blends can­not with­stand pre­ma­ture degra­da­tion, should E10 be used. Ad­di­tion­ally, LIQUI MOLY’S re­search also un­cov­ered engine oils that do not com­ply with the up­dated spec­i­fi­ca­tions for E10. Nat­u­rally, us­ing more ‘ethanol re­sis­tant’ oil that pos­sesses a thin­ner vis­cos­ity in an older engine could cause se­vere dam­age, just as us­ing older spec­i­fi­ca­tion lubricants in newer en­gines is just as un­wise.

Short shelf life: Phase sep­a­ra­tion

As E10 de­grades, typ­i­cally within 4-6 weeks after re­fin­ing, the ethanol ab­sorbs and holds wa­ter in sus­pen­sion up to a cer­tain level, prior to phase sep­a­ra­tion oc­cur­ring. The rate at which it does so de­pends on at­mo­spheric con­di­tions.

The con­di­tion makes an in­com­bustible wa­ter-ethanol gloop fall to the bot­tom of the tank, leav­ing a low-oc­tane petrol layer above it. Even if a mod­ern engine can start and run on this aged and de­graded fuel, lac­quer and var­nish de­posits are likely to af­fect fuel in­jec­tor spray pat­terns, lead­ing to incomplete com­bus­tion and the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of even more de­posits, let alone wors­en­ing ex­haust emis­sions. Low mileage users that do not re­plen­ish their fuel reg­u­larly are es­pe­cially at risk.

Yet, mod­ern Plug-in Hy­brids can suf­fer too, be­cause they are more likely to re­tain the same tank of fuel, due to their abil­ity to be driven short-dis­tances on elec­tric power only. Brim­ming and emp­ty­ing the petrol tank reg­u­larly be­fore the fuel ‘goes off ’ might not be a vi­able op­tion in those cases. In­ter­est­ingly, the Chevro­let Volt/vaux­hall Am­pera hy­brid mod­els (sold as the same car un­der dif­fer­ent badges be­tween 20122014 but, ad­mit­tedly, were not vol­ume sell­ers in the UK) had a for­tu­itous fuel main­te­nance mode to use-up stale fuel but it activates only after a year has elapsed from the last fuel fill-up.

A num­ber of our sources ac­knowl­edge that driv­ing styles and con­di­tions in­flu­ence the tech­ni­cal chal­lenges that

E10 brings. While we are aware that a bio-fuel sup­porter ad­vised the DFT that UK real-world tests were un­nec­es­sary on E10, be­cause “the Amer­i­cans, French, Bel­gians and Finns have done it for us”, it pre­sumes that over­seas cli­mates, driv­ing habits and road con­di­tions are the same as ours. While France con­sti­tutes the largest E10 mar­ket in the EU, with 38.5% of petrol sales; that fig­ure plum­mets to 13.4% in Ger­many (based on 2017 fig­ures). There­fore, it is pos­si­ble that real-world tech­ni­cal is­sues, at­trib­ut­able to E10, may not be preva­lent as those ex­pe­ri­enced in North Amer­ica, where 95% of gaso­line there con­tains at least 10% ethanol.

Yet, com­par­ing US con­di­tions di­rectly with the UK is also dif­fi­cult. BG Prod­ucts has bases in both the UK and North Amer­ica and re­vealed that it found av­er­age UK mileage to be 7,400 an­nu­ally, com­pared to 13,400 in the US and, be­cause US pas­sen­ger car fuel tank ca­pac­i­ties tend to be smaller than those in the UK (and EU), it is not an un­rea­son­able pre­sump­tion that North Amer­i­can tanks are re­plen­ished nearly twice as fre­quently, which would make them less sus­cep­ti­ble to phase-sep­a­ra­tion. Sev­eral sources also re­vealed that North Amer­i­can driv­ers tend to change their oil more

of­ten (it can be as low as ev­ery 3,000 miles but tends to be around 7-10,000 miles, or twice an­nu­ally), com­pared to the rec­om­mended drain in­ter­vals of be­tween 10,000 and 20,000 in the UK/EU, or once an­nu­ally.

Should E10 be in­tro­duced, what can you do?

It is worth not­ing that your fuel con­sump­tion is likely to in­crease by around 1.5% on E10, com­pared with

E5, and there has been no in­di­ca­tion so far that the new fuel will at­tract a tax break. Even so, this ar­ti­cle is not de­bat­ing E10’s in­tro­duc­tion but to high­light tech­ni­cal chal­lenges that are rel­e­vant for the typ­i­cal Bri­tish mo­torist. Should your car be non-e10-com­pli­ant, do not be tempted to fill-up with it. Should your car be ap­proved, con­sider fuel de­te­ri­o­rates is­sues. Keep the tank’s con­tents ‘fresh’ with reg­u­lar fill-ups, which should help to re­duce the wa­t­er­ab­sorp­tion and phase-sep­a­rate risks.

As E10 is likely to in­crease de­posits within the engine oil, take fur­ther ac­tion at ser­vice time. En­sure that the crank­case breath­ing equip­ment is in good con­di­tion and use a qual­ity flush at ev­ery oil change (See CM’S Fe­bru­ary

2020 is­sue). Lu­cas Oil in North Amer­ica ad­vises CM’S UK read­ers to con­sider more fre­quent oil changes too, and make mi­nor ad­just­ments in driv­ing habits, such as con­sol­i­dat­ing sev­eral small trips into fewer longer ones. Us­ing a fuel ad­di­tive at ser­vice time, to help com­bat fuel in­jec­tor lac­quer­ing, is a use­ful pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sure, as is mon­i­tor­ing both in­take and EGR sys­tems for in­creased de­posits.

We must em­pha­sise again that the DFT has made no for­mal de­ci­sion on E10’s in­tro­duc­tion. How­ever, as the prac­ti­cal in-ser­vice is­sues of E10 ap­pear not to

have been dis­cussed in-depth by our pol­i­cy­mak­ers, at the time of writ­ing, the tech­ni­cally-aware owner needs to be bet­ter in­formed of the po­ten­tial is­sues that E10 can cause. We hope also that gov­ern­ment ad­vis­ers will take into con­sid­er­a­tion the en­vi­ron­men­tal in­flu­ence of po­ten­tially de­creased older engine ef­fi­ciency, the in­creased need for flushes and ad­di­tives, plus greater oil change fre­quen­cies in their CO2 cal­cu­la­tions. We have agreed to sup­ply the DFT with some of our re­search, be­fore it reaches a ver­dict on E10’s Bri­tish fu­ture.

New petrol la­belling from last sum­mer high­lights bio-fuel content.

Clas­sic cars are not the only ve­hi­cles af­fected by E10. The most preva­lent known fam­ily of en­gines that are E10-in­com­pat­i­ble is Volk­swa­gen Group’s FSI range.

Be wary of pre­sum­ing that a range of cars is E10 com­pli­ant, be­cause there can be ex­cep­tions. Volvo, for ex­am­ple, states that its post-1976 cars can be run on E10, ex­cept for 1.8-litre GDI vari­ants of its V40 and S40 mod­els, which were made un­til 2004.

Un­less re­solved by the fuel blenders, E10 phase sep­a­ra­tion could be­come a se­vere is­sue for stored cars and low mileage users – and also cur­rent Plug-in Hy­brid ve­hi­cles. This Mit­subishi Out­lander PHEV can be driven up to 28 miles in elec­tric-only mode, ac­cord­ing to the stricter re­al­world WLTP tests, mean­ing that the same fuel could be in the tank for many weeks, or more.

While GDI en­gines are prone to in­take con­tam­i­na­tion, E10 is known to in­crease the rate at which these de­posits build.

Due to the dif­fer­ent com­bus­tion chem­istry, the power out­put of ethanol is slightly lower than of petrol, so fuel con­sump­tion in­creases slightly. Yet, the dif­fer­ence be­tween E5 to E10 petrol is barely no­tice­able. ADAC has cal­cu­lated that the typ­i­cal mo­torist will have a fuel con­sump­tion in­crease of ap­prox­i­mately 1.5%.

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