E15 Gasoline: What You Should Know
There is a lot of concern about the use E15 gasoline (gasoline that contains between 10.5% and 15% ethanol) in gasoline powered engines. So, I decided to do a little research on the subject to see for myself what the facts are and to pass along what I learned to IVHOG members.
In my prior life I worked for Sunoco for 32 years in IT management in several divisions. So, while I’m not a gasoline expert, I have acquired more than a little insight into the gasoline business.
Given the potential harm that E15 can do to certain engines, I urge all IVHOG members to educate themselves beyond this article. I have included links to several websites that provide good information about this issue.
First, a little background:
- Ethanol (made from corn) was introduced into the fuel supply in the late 1980’s (in the bulk of the country) though it was in limited use primarily in the Mid-West. Its primary function is to allow gasoline to burn cleaner, thus reducing emissions. It also boosts octane. Ethanol replaced MTBE (a toxic chemical) for these functions because MTBE was found in the ground water around the country (due to spills, etc.) and proved difficult to remove. While it is mandated that certain areas with air quality issues must use ethanol blends (e.g. cities), areas which do not violate clean air standards (rural, mainly) do not have to use it.
- According to the Dept. of Energy, advances in production methods now yield ethanol which is “energy positive”;
- i.e. it produces more energy than it takes to make. In the early days the U.S. government subsidized ethanol production because it was “energy negative” and without subsidies the industry would not have survived. Now that ethanol is “energy positive” one would think the subsidies would end. This hasn’t happened completely, so if you write your legislators about anything maybe it should be this.
- Under the Clean Air Act, corn producers began pushing to get more ethanol into the gasoline supply and in 2010/2011 the EPA granted fuel manufacturers that meet certain conditions the right, but not the obligation, to use up to a 15% blend of ethanol in their motor fuels. Fuel manufacturers are not necessarily happy about using E15 due to possible liabilities arising from “misfueling” (using the fuel in non-approved situations) which they cannot control.
- It is beyond dispute that E15 is not suitable for, and can damage, certain types and/or ages of engines. Therefore all stakeholders in the market place: consumers, gasoline dealers and fuel and engine manufacturers need to be aware of the limitations of this fuel blend. The February 13, 2013 posting on the website of “Popular Mechanics” points out these issues about ethanol
- Ethanol is corrosive to rubber and certain metals
- Ethanol attracts and bonds with water in the air and the water can separate out over time
- In vehicles that sit for long periods of time the water can settle in the tank and clog its filters and pumps
- While ethanol displaces some petroleum based gasoline (e.g. 10% in E10 gas) it is not always cheaper per gallon. For example, in April 2014 the wholesale cost of ethanol free gasoline in Nebraska was $2.94/gal while the cost of ethanol was $3.15/gal. Thus, adding ethanol actually raised the price when added. In fact, since 1982, the average price of ethanol has been higher than ethanol free gasoline in all but 3 years.
- According the Hemmings Motor News, the recently passed Farm Bill may result in the slowing of E15 usage. Hemmings also points out that the EPA has reduced the amount of ethanol that must go into the US gasoline supply since the overall consumption of gas has dropped and continues to do so. Not surprisingly ethanol producers are unhappy with the EPA’s decision.
Here are the key takeaways for me:
- E15 is not approved for use in motorcycles, and is illegal to use in motorcycles.
- E15 is not approved for small engines such as lawnmowers, string trimmers.
- E15 is not approved for off road engines such as snowmobiles and boat engines.
- E15 is not approved for heavy duty vehicles such as school buses.
- According to the EPA, E15 can be used in vehicles from model year 2001 and newer.
- It’s a good idea to check with the manufacturer of your automobile to be certain of its position on your model and year. Some manufacturers will not honor warranties if E15 is used regardless what the EPA says.
- Gas pumps have to have a label telling you what the ethanol content of the gasoline is. Look for this fueling label (or similar) on the gas pump whenever you buy gasoline. Hey, they use Harley colors! Nice touch.
- There doesn’t appear to be a set date when E15 is to appear at the pump in our area. Since its use is optional, YOU have to check for the E15 label.
- Be very careful when using a blend pump (e.g. Sunoco) because if it dispenses both E10 and E15 through the same hose and the hose contains E15 (which you may not know), you may need to pump 4 gallons of E10 to reducethe ethanol in E15 to acceptable levels (Popular Mechanics).
- Since gasoline retailers cannot control how consumers intend to use gasoline that is pumped into a gas can (i.e. for use in cars, motorcycles or small engines) you should be wary of using gasoline from a gas can unless you are absolutely certain you know what it contains.
- Fuel stabilizers are probably necessary any time the E15 fuel will sit for more than a few weeks. Not a bad idea for E10 fuels as well.
Good references regarding E15:
http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/alternative- fuel/biofuels/four-things-to-know-about-e15- 15096134
Popular Mechanics website; it has a very readable description of the E15 issue.
The website of the US Dept. of Energy.
Website of the Renewable Fuels Association (e.g. corn producers)
Forbes is a business publication.
The Hemmings Motor News website. (Thanks to Roger Joseph for this reference)
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