Marine engines at risk from gasoline change

ELLSWORTH — With the approach of boating season this year came the news that E15 gasoline could soon be available at gas pumps year-round.

The fuel is a blend that includes petroleum products and 15 percent ethanol, a biofuel produced primarily from corn.

In April, President Donald Trump signaled his support for changing the nation’s biofuel policy that currently limits the percentage of ethanol used in the summer months to 10 percent and promised to make E15 available year-round.

That’s bad news for boat owners, according to National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich. The boating industry has been lobbying against the change for years.

“Unfortunately, far too few boating enthusiasts are aware that boat engines cannot process higher blends of ethanol safely,” Dammrich said in a statement.

The boating industry has long opposed gasoline blended with more than 10 percent ethanol because of the damage it can cause to marine engines, as well as other small engines such as lawnmowers.

“Alcohol in gas is like a rain cloud,” said Jason Pirie, owner of Pirie Marine & Power Sport in Ellsworth, on Monday. “Alcohol sucks up moisture in the fuel and then it rains,” with the unburnable condensed moisture settling to the bottom of a fuel tank.

That could cause an engine to stop running suddenly, “which can be scary in a saltwater environment,” Pirie said.

Worse, older fuel lines and fuel system components may actually be eaten away by the alcohol, forming a powdery residue that can gum up and damage a carburetor or fuel injectors, Pirie said.

He has even seen E10 fuel cause fiberglass fuel tanks to delaminate, allowing pieces of the glass to block the fuel intake to the engine.

While boat owners have largely learned to cope with the effects of E10, Pirie has some concerns about the impact of E15 gas.

“The biggest thing,” he said, “is our manufacturers haven’t approved E15. If you had an engine failure” while using E15, “it could potentially not be covered under warranty.”

Currently, the federal Environmental Protection Agency bans most sales of E15 during the summer because when ethanol is blended with gasoline the mix becomes more volatile, gives off more vapors and contributes to air pollution during hot weather.

The switch to year-round production of E15 appears to be driven largely by a desire to placate voters in corn-growing states, but that may not appease boat owners.

For them, “what is the possible benefit of E15?” Pirie asked.


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