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Hi Ethel!!

September 16, 2010


Bournemouth, England – In this case not my legendary Aunt Ethel who on an October day in 1939, reputedly, stood like a latter-day Boudicca upon the end of Brighton Pier threatening to take on the Nazi hordes single-handed.

No folks it’s Ethanol, the green fuel, that’s the subject of this discussion. Ethanol (ethyl alcohol) is the same type of alcohol as is found in beer and other alcoholic beverages. Unlike petrol ethanol is a renewable energy source and can be made from crops like sugar cane, potatoes and maize. Ethanol may be used as a stand alone fuel or as is being done in the UK and rest of the European Union added to petrol. Adding ethanol to petrol boosts the octane rating and reduces particulate and CO2 tail pipe emissions. Thus it is favoured by European governments as a way of meeting their commitment to reduce carbon emissions.

Legislation in the UK now allows petrol to contain a maximum ethanol content of 5% by volume. 5% was chosen to avoid vehicle operability issues which can occur when higher proportions of ethanol are added to petrol. Vehicle operability issues?  Ethanol is corrosive increasing the level above 5% can damage engines, corrode metal fuel tanks and cause the rubber hoses and seals in fuel systems to break down.

Thus is seems extraordinary that the UK Government  intends to amend the Motor Fuel Regulations and implement  European Directive 2009/30/EC which will see the amount of ethanol in UK petrol rise to 10% by volume (E10). Even more surprising when the Department for Transport (DfT) has admitted that older, carburetted vehicles built before 1993 cannot use the 10% blend – and that only vehicles built after 2000 have been designed to use it, even then some direct injection engines may not perform correctly. Meaning that around a third of the current UK vehicle parc can only use E10 if modified to do so.

And the E10 implementation plan?  From as early as January 2011 UK premium unleaded petrol (ron 95) may contain 10% ethanol and pumps must be marked accordingly. To support E10 incompatible vehicles the EU Directive states that suppliers must continue to provide petrol with a maximum 5% ethanol content until at least 2013. In practice this means that owners of non E10 compatible vehicles will have to switch to super-unleaded petrol (ron 97-98 and 5 pence a litre more expensive) which will continue to contain no more than 5% ethanol. That’s until 2013 when a review will take place relating to its phasing out. By 2016 the only petrol available in the UK may be E10 with 5% ethanol, like leaded petrol, only available at a tiny proportion of outlets if at all.

BRR is aware that the vintage and classic motorcycle clubs are making strenuous efforts to ameliorate the effects that the introduction of E10 will have on their members ability to enjoy their machines. But I wonder exactly what, if anything, the other UK riders groups and the Federation of European Motorcycle Associations (FEMA) are doing. Presumable either starting another pub debating group in the Outer Hebrides or trying to persuade us that allowing the down loading of data from on board diagnostic systems will affect our human rights.

Where’s the information and debate. Oh I’ve started it!

Ride safe and have fun!

© Back Roads Rider 2010

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Rob998 permalink
    September 19, 2010 11:13 am

    Oh Brilliant. Ducati Sport Classic owners in the USA have been having massive problems with their plastic fuel tanks deforming because of the effects of Ethanol in their fuel. Thus far Ducati have been replacing said tanks under warranty.

    However, as this all Sport Classics sold in the UK will be well out of warranty by 2013 I doubt that Ducati will continue with this policy, especially as it will be a discontinued model. Somehow I doubt that the government will assist owners with this matter. It’ll be the usual story of allowing legislation in through the back door despite the potential for damage.

    I wonder if anyone has done the sums on how much CO will be produced by the increased production of replacements for components damaged by ethanol vs the touted lower emissions of E10? Probably not, because, as always, Governments are seduced by the simple headline of “Reduced Emissions!!!!” and any inconvenient truths hidden further down in the figures are just that: Inconvenient.

    • Back Roads Rider permalink*
      September 19, 2010 6:59 pm

      Thanks for that contribution.

      Another issue raised by the BRR consultant engineer is phase separation of the fuel in laid up machines. Apparently ethanol is hydroscopic thus if stored for long periods i.e. over wintering bikes the petrol, ethanol and water stratify with the water at the bottom of the tank. Hey presto bottom of metal tanks rust out!


  1. Anonymous
  2. Sport Classic owners be afraid..... - Ducatisti Forum

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