Makers of outboard marine engines say scores of their products could be ruined if consumers use a fuel mix that contains a higher level of ethanol.
On Tuesday, an engineer from Fond du Lac-based Mercury Marine Corp. is scheduled to testify before a congressional committee that recent engine tests showed severe damage to Mercury products run on a 15% blend of ethanol that’s coming to market soon.
The tests showed that three outboards run on an E15 fuel blend were damaged to the point of engine failure, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
Makers of other smaller engines, used on equipment such as lawn mowers, snow throwers and all-terrain vehicles, also have said they believe that a higher ethanol blend in gasoline – scheduled for introduction as early as this fall – could result in catastrophic damage to those products.
Overheating and engine performance issues are among the problems that face owners of outdoor power products if they’re mistakenly fueled with E15.
In the Mercury Marine tests, paid for by the Department of Energy, a 200-horsepower outboard engine broke down after less than 300 hours of continuous operation, at full throttle, on the biofuel blend.
“The bearings on a piston disintegrated,” said John McKnight, director of environmental and safety compliance for the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
An identical engine powered by gasoline without ethanol was not damaged in the industry-standard test, according to McKnight.
A 300-horsepower Mercury outboard, one of the company’s most expensive engines, sustained valve damage after 280 hours of testing, while an identical engine running on gasoline without ethanol wasn’t damaged.
A small 9.9-horsepower engine running on ethanol completed the test but also was damaged.
“It was running very poorly,” McKnight said. “The results of the testing reinforce the recreational boating industry’s significant concern that E15 is not a suitable fuel for marine engines. We expect that additional testing will reveal similar real concerns to fuel tanks and fuel systems.”
‘Blaze orange warning’
Most gasoline now contains up to 10% ethanol, which is made from corn. The Environmental Protection Agency has approved a 15% blend for newer-model cars and trucks, but it has not extended the fuel waiver to vehicles manufactured before 2001.
It also has not approved the 15% blend for small engines.
“Even as an ethanol guy, my advice to Mercury would be to tell people not to use E15 in their outboard engines,” said Ron Lamberty, senior vice president of the American Coalition for Ethanol.
Not only shouldn’t they use the 15% blend, it would be a violation of federal law if they did, according to Lamberty.
“There’s going to be a blaze orange warning label on the fuel pump,” he said.
The biofuels industry has pushed hard for higher ethanol blends in gasoline, saying it’s a source of renewable fuel and provides additional income for corn growers.
“We need lawmakers with a broader vision, and a policy discussion that goes beyond engine performance,” said Josh Morby, executive director of the Wisconsin Bio Industry Alliance.
The Mercury Marine test is not considered statistically significant, since it used only a handful of outboard engines.
And the tested engines were not calibrated to run on E15, ethanol supporters say.
Ideally, gasoline stations will have fuel dispensers where the consumer could choose an ethanol blend, advocates say, ranging from 10% to E85, which is 85% ethanol. It comes down to consumer choice, they say, and people should have the right to choose whatever fuel they want based on price and engine requirements.
Choosing the wrong fuel by mistake is a big concern, according to small-engine makers.
E15 could damage more than 200 million pieces of outdoor power equipment that were not designed to run on ethanol content higher than 10%, according to the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, which represents Wisconsin engine manufacturers Briggs & Stratton Co. and Kohler Co.
It’s potentially disastrous for boat owners if they put the 15% ethanol blend in their boat’s fuel tank while filling the tank of their late-model car or truck.
“I don’t think people are naturally inclined to look at all of the labels on a fuel pump to make sure they are putting in the right amount of ethanol,” said Mercury Marine spokesman Steve Fleming.
Biofuel advocates say consumers are smart enough to choose the right fuel, and that engine makers should improve their products rather than complain about ethanol.
Small-engine makers say they’re testing isobutanol as an alternative to E15.
Like ethanol, it can be made from corn and other organic feedstock. Also, Briggs & Stratton engines tested with a 16% blend of isobutanol in gasoline were not damaged.
Briggs is encouraged by the test results, Todd Teske, chairman, president and CEO said in a news release Friday.
There are 70 million Briggs & Stratton engines that could be adversely affected by E15, according to the company.
“We are very interested in alternative fuels that do not cause damage to the substantial number of engines in use today while lessening the country’s dependency on foreign oil,” Teske said.
New ethanol blend damages marine engines, industry engineers say – JSOnline.