by Jeni Bone
The political leader of Australia's most populous state, NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell announced on Monday night that his cabinet had scrapped an unpopular ban on regular unleaded petrol, which critics had claimed would drive up prices. But marine industry pundits are convinced there are only dangers to boats and increased expense for boaties.
Classic example of ’phase separation’, one of the problems when using ethanol - that’s ethanol and water at the bottom, petrol - gasoline on top. - Ethanol
E10 is a huge risk to small boats, says marine researcher Gary Fooks. 'It dissolves and corrodes fuel tanks, damages fuel lines and fittings resulting in written off outboard. Maritime Safety NSW, the Qld government and BP have all issued warnings about E10 and boats.'
Fooks continues: 'That means costly repairs for some, but sensible boaties will have to pay an extra 15c per Litre for premium petrol, for no performance benefit, but just to avoid the risks of ethanol. Effectively, a tax on boating.'
The NSW Premier said his government will still back the ethanol mandate, under which oil companies must ensure 6 per cent of their fuel sold is ethanol, because it provides regional jobs, fuel security and environmental benefits.
Opponents say regular unleaded petrol is likely to become available at only one in 20 petrol stations if the state government proceeds with its mandate of ethanol blended fuel.
Under the laws introduced by the former Labor government, all regular unleaded would have been replaced with a 10 per cent ethanol blend from July 1, forcing motorists to choose between E10 or premium unleaded for an extran 15c per Litre on average.
However, the NSW government remains committed to a mandate for six per cent of fuel sold to be ethanol, which BP said would still require all unleaded petrol to be blended.
'I do not agree with much the petrol companies say,' the Premier told reporters yesterday at press conference. 'The oil companies have always opposed the decision in the Parliament in 2007 to introduce an ethanol mandate,' he said.
'They can go hang,' he said. 'This government, the last government [and] the Parliament has supported that ethanol mandate.'
Greens MP John Kaye said the six per cent mandate would have a similar effect as the scrapped ban, with many petrol stations forced to close their regular unleaded bowsers.
Dr Kaye said the Greens would support a move to E10 fuels if there was evidence it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and called for an independent inquiry into its benefits before the changes were rolled out on July 1.
In the US, the EPA has led the push for E10 and E15 blends. E10 is a blend of 90 per cent unleaded petrol and 10 per cent ethanol. Because it’s an oxygenate, ethanol burns cleaner than standard petrol and reduces carbon monoxide emissions and greenhouse gases, and so is hailed as a more enviro-friendly fuel.
'But that also means E15 burns hotter, severely damaging outboards in recent tests,' says Fooks.
Just what one does not need to find when inspeacting a marine engine - these valves now sport heavy deposits of varnish, courtesy of the solvent feature that exists in E10 fuel. - ethanol
Gary Fooks states that even for new boats, the use of E10 fuels can be a problem. 'Too many boat builders haven't started using E-ready tanks and hoses, and haven't put warning labels against using E10,' he explains.
'Boats and ethanol simply don’t mix,' Fooks states.
'First of all, ethanol is bad for boats. Then there is the problem that ethanol is a solvent so it dissolves GRP fuel tanks, corrodes aluminium tanks, dissolves fittings and parts and passes through the best filters, coating and destroying engine components. It’s not just an outboard problem, it’s a whole boat problem, because the problem starts with hull components.'
Another problem is that it goes off in two weeks, not six to 12 weeks, explains Fooks. 'It evaporates quickly and in a moist environment, water attaches to the ethanol and undergoes ‘Phase separation’ so the ethanol sinks to the bottom. When it comes to fuel pick up, the even hoses that can cope with 10 percent ethanol will be hit with 100 percent ethanol and surely deteriorate and fail – resulting in fuel leak, fire, coating inside of engine.
'I am worried that people think the mandate has been cancelled. It hasn’t. It’s stuck at 6 percent, which means 6 percent of petrol in NSW must be E10. In Queensland that’s 5 percent. The oil companies can’t modify petrol stations, so they make a whole service station either E10 or regular unleaded, and a whole region.'
Ethanol has little to do with the environment, it’s being pushed by farming groups, adds Fooks.
E10 and E15 - Corn and wheat ethanol producers are lobbying hard - and the boating industry will be a major loser
'The Greens can’t be seen to be against it, because it is cleaner, but it’s primarily a farming industry issue. It's good that farmers get a better price for their crops, and that we rely less on imported oil, so there are some benefits.'
Its seem to MarineBusiness-World, that overall the short life of E10 and worse still going forward E15 is going to remain an insoluble problem for petrol powered outboard motors.
We will have more to say on this issue in coming days.