The UK Government has announced that as of Summer 2021 the standard (or ‘Premium’) petrol grade in the UK will become E10.
E10 petrol contains up to 10% renewable ethanol which is added to help reduce overall CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions (not to be confused with GHG emissions) & in doing so, help the Government reach it’s emissions targets. E5, with no more than 5% ethanol will become the higher-octane option at the petrol pumps.
The UK Government states that introducing E10 onto the UK forecourts could cut transport CO2 emissions by 750,000 tonnes a year – the equivalent of taking 350,000 cars off the road. (1)
By blending ethanol with traditional fuels, less fossil fuels are used & in doing so CO2 emissions are reduced.
However, the UK Government has not always supported the introduction of E10. Fleetnews reported three years ago in 2018 that the introduction of E10 had been delayed again after the UK Government “launched another consultation on E10 petrol” (2) whereas Europe have been rolling out the use of E10 since 2009 & it is now available in 14 EU countries.
When Dolphin N2 reported on these developments in 2019, Richard Royal, head of Government affairs at Vivergo, a bio-ethanol producer headquartered in Yorkshire, said “We disagree with the Government document’s assertion that E10’s impact on air quality is ‘negligible’ – countless recent studies have shown a direct correlation between increasing ethanol levels & reducing pollutants such as particulates, as well as suggesting that E10 could reduce NOx by up to 34%, particulate matter & nanoparticles by up to 96%, & carcinogens by around 7%.” (2)
What is ethanol/bioethanol & how is it produced?
Ethanol is an alcohol-based fuel & fermentation is the primary production method. The starch sources used to create bioethanol span a large spectrum of sustainable products, from corn, wheat, grain sorghum, barley, & potatoes, to sugar crops such as sugar cane & sweet sorghum.
In some countries, biomass is now being refined to create bioethanol. Products such as corn husks, stalks & leaves are now being blended in the production of bioethanol, adding further credibility to the circular economic nature of bioethanol production.
The wastage in ethanol/bioethanol is minimal as the by-products of ethanol production are often used in animal feed.
How will using E10 affect your car or motorcycle?
Most cars & motorcycles produced since the late 1990s are approved by manufacturers to use E10 & users will see little or no change in their vehicle’s performance. (1)
However, high ethanol fuel like E10 has a shorter shelf life than the higher octane E5 & can cause damage to older vehicles, particularly those built with carburettors. Vehicles which are not used regularly for example & are left with high ethanol fuel in their tanks; may find that the fuel goes stale quickly & can cause running issues, making vehicles difficult to start.
NB: Organic-based Ethanol can lose its combustibility in just one to three months due to oxidation & evaporation.
Furthermore, ethanol derived from biomass also has a higher water content & can therefore cause damage to components such as seals & diaphragms & it’s corrosive nature can cause damage to some plastics, metals & alloys.
Therefore, what happens if your vehicle is not compatible & you happen to fill up your tank with E10, when your vehicle should only run on E5?
The collective research reassures that if it is a one time occurrence, you would not need to drain your tank, but just ensure you fill up with E5 the next time. However, the guidance is clear, if you do fill up your tank with E10 repeatedly in a non-compatible vehicle, this may cause damage to the engine & components.
E10, intermediate solution or future fuel?
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Before electric cars become the norm, we want to take advantage of reduced CO2 emissions today.
“This small switch to petrol containing bioethanol at 10% will help drivers across country reduce the environmental impact of every journey.” (3)
Therefore, are the benefits of E10 in helping reduce the UK’s overall CO2 emissions by up to 6% (3) robust enough to support the drive towards Net Zero?
Written & cited by Katy-Jane Mason for & on behalf of Dolphin N2