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E15 approval means boaters should beware

Paying close attention to pump labels will be important to avoid filling up with the higher ethanol blend

ValvTect says it won't sell E15 at any of the 600 marinas that carry its fuel, which is formulated to prevent ethanol problems.Now that the federal government has approved the sale of gasoline with up to 15 percent ethanol, boat owners will have to check fuel-pump labels carefully to be sure the gas they use contains no more than 10 percent ethanol.

"Do everything within your power to know what kind of fuel you are using," says David Meeler, Yamaha Motor Corp. product marketing information manager. "All the current marine engines out there are designed to run up to 10 percent ethanol blend. Anything over that and you probably want to find yourself a different gas station."

On Oct. 13, the Environmental Protection Agency waived a limitation on selling fuel that is more than 10 percent ethanol for model-year 2007 and newer cars and light trucks. Marine engines are exempted.

The waiver does not mandate the use of E15, but it could create confusion among the owners of boats and other non-road vehicles and lead to misfueling, says Mat Dunn, legislative director of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the recreational boating trade group. "A partial waiver is a guarantee that misfueling of boat and other non-road engines will occur and it will push E15 into many markets, which means trouble," Dunn says.

Mercury Marine stressed its opposition to the decision in a statement to Soundings: "It is inevitable that higher ethanol blends will mistakenly find their way into other unintended applications. The level of testing performed to support the EPA decision was inadequate ... and the processes designed to prevent the unintended use of this fuel blend in non-highway applications or older vehicles are inadequate."

The statement continues: "Fuel containing higher proportions of ethanol is not compatible with many fuel system and engine components and, if mistakenly used, will cause irreversible damage to these components that will lead to engine failure and potential safety risks."

The EPA is proposing E15 pump-label rules, including a requirement that the fuel industry specify the ethanol content of gasoline sold to retailers. This, the agency says, will help consumers choose the type of gasoline they need for their engines. The NMMA, which has lobbied hard against E15, says this step does not go far enough.

In addition to avoiding E15, boat owners can opt to fill their tanks with ValvTect gasoline, which the company says is "specially formulated" to prevent ethanol problems. "It is my understanding that E15 will not be mandated - it will be a choice," ValvTect Petroleum Products president Jerry Nessenson says.

And ValvTect has chosen not to sell E15 at the 600 marinas around the country that carry its fuel, he says. "The sale of E15 will be strictly prohibited at all certified ValvTect Marinas at this time," says Nessenson. "Violation of this policy will result in the marina being decertified as a Certified ValvTect Marina."

The chemistry of ValvTect's conditioner/stabilizer - ValvTect Ethanol Gasoline Treatment - will remain the same, but the proportions of some additives may need to increase, Nessenson says. "We can add the proper amount of additives and provide the same protection," he says. "E15 may be more corrosive and, of course, we would add more corrosion inhibitor."

Another way to help guard against the problems ethanol causes - valve and piston failure and the gumming up of fuel lines, for example - is to add fuel stabilizer and conditioner to the tank every time the boat is fueled and before seasonal layup, experts say. Star brite and Sta-Bil say their products can treat E15.

"During the test process before the product came out, we conducted all sorts of tests with the different grades of [ethanol blend] gasoline," says Matt Brown, sales manager for Sta-Bil's marine products, which include Marine Formula Sta-Bil Ethanol Treatment. "There are 200 to 250 fuel formulas, based on where you are in the country. We tested with everything - all the way up to E85."

Bill Lindsey, vice president of marketing for Star brite, is confident that his company's Star brite Star Tron Enzyme Fuel Treatment can treat gasoline with higher levels of ethanol. "Star Tron came onto the market before ethanol was introduced into fuel," he says. "It does several things. It's going to stabilize the fuel ... regardless of whether it's 100 percent ethanol or 90 percent or whatever. That won't change. It's still going to have the same effect. It's also going to allow more oxygen to attach to the fuel hydrocarbons, whether you have 10 percent ethanol or 15 percent. It's still going to allow whatever fuel is in [the tank] to burn more completely."

See related story:

- Ethanol complicates winter storage

This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue.

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