What is Ethanol and Why Does it Cause Problems?
Ethanol blended gasoline was introduced in the United States as a renewable fuel alternative that would help reduce dependence on foreign oil. Because ethanol is derived from corn, the production and refinement of ethanol supports the agricultural industry and rural communities. Burning ethanol gasoline also produces 3 to 4 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than pure gasoline. The growing adoption rate of ethanol has escalated in recent years and use is even mandated in some states.
Although ethanol blended gasoline has caused little to no issues on cars, the use as marine fuel has caused quite a few problems for boat owners. The problems are mainly linked to the fact that ethanol is a solvent that can react with boat fuel tanks, fuel filters and carburetors causing an engine-stopping sludge. The ethanol solvent interacts with water that forms from condensation that commonly gathers in a partially full fuel tank. Because ethanol is a hygroscopic, it attracts and attaches to any water in a fuel tank, creating a clogging sludge that is problematic for fuel filters, carburetors and engine parts.
Fiberglass fuel tanks typically found in older boats are made with a thophthalic resin that can also react negatively with ethanol blended gasoline. The sludge build up can cause performance issues, ongoing repair or maintenance issues and can even ruin an engine.
Ethanol Related Boat Engine Problems
The use of ethanol blended gasoline can wreak havoc on your boat engines if not carefully monitored. To limit the impact of ethanol problems in boat engines, consider these precautions:
- Don’t let ethanol gasoline sit in fuel tanks. Ethanol gasoline sitting too long in a fuel tank is more likely to absorb water and cause problems. Use fuel within 90 days and refuel often to prevent problems.
- Keep up with maintenance. Be sure to change fuel filters and maintain a clean carburetor to limit sludge build-up caused by ethanol in your boat engine.
- Address issues quickly. When performance problems persist, such as a continually fouled carburetor, consider taking the proactive measure of draining a fuel tank and refueling. Cleansing your fuel tank of any gasoline impacted by ethanol may save you from bigger issues like a destroyed boat engine.
- Choose ethanol-free fuel. You may have options for avoiding ethanol gasoline altogether. There are many marinas that now offer ethanol-free fuel or fuel with additives that may reduce the impact of ethanol in gasoline.
- Fuel your boat at marinas. Don’t risk fueling your boat with a higher level of ethanol if E15 becomes available at gasoline stations on land. Fueling your boat at a marina will be safer because E15 will not be approved for sale at a marina.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed an increase in the percentage of ethanol in gasoline from 10% (E10) to up to 15% (E15). An increase in the percentage of ethanol blended in gasoline could prove to be even more damaging to boats than E10 ? for both new and old boats.
The EPA ruled in early 2010 that if E15 were introduced into gasoline the sale of it would be limited to on-road vehicles only, but marine industry experts are fearful boats are still at risk. The National Marine Manufacturer’s Association (NMMA) has raised concerns that “there is significant risk of consumer confusion and misfueling.” Experts are concerned that even though E15 may not be offered at your local fuel dock, there are many smaller boats that choose to purchase their gasoline on land at a standard gasoline station. Also, if the marketing of E15 as a lower cost fuel may be attractive boat owners that are not informed about the potential impact on their boat engine.
Boaters are advised not to risk fueling their boat with a higher level of ethanol if E15 becomes available at gasoline stations on land. Purchasing gasoline at a marina fuel dock is the safer option because E15 will not be approved for sale at marinas.
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