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Bill calls for study on ethanol for marine use

The marine industry is a step closer in its effort to thwart the introduction of gasoline with 15 percent ethanol.

A bill, awaiting vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, calls for a study of blended fuels in marine applications. "We think this is a good study, we think it's doable and we think that, in general, there should be more studies, research and investigation into the impacts of midlevel ethanol and E10," says Matthew Dunn, legislative director for the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

Ethanol producers have asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to raise the maximum amount of ethanol blended into gasoline from 10 percent to 15 percent. (See related story.)

The marine industry is unprepared for a spike in ethanol.

"All the current marine engines out there are designed to run up to 10 percent ethanol blend," says David Meeler, Yamaha product marketing information manager. "Anything over that, you probably want to find yourself a different gas station."

The ethanol hike proposal comes at a time when marine engine manufacturers, mechanics and boatyard crews appear to be on their way to mitigating E10-induced engine and fuel-system problems. Since its introduction in 2005, ethanol-blended gasoline has led to the disintegration of fiberglass fuel tanks, the gumming up of fuel lines, and piston and valve failure.

The government set a 10-percent limit on ethanol about three decades ago. This spring, however, Growth Energy, a group representing the nation's ethanol producers, petitioned the EPA for a waiver to allow ethanol blends of up to 15 percent. The NMMA has argued that the EPA should deny the E15 waiver request until independent and comprehensive scientific testing is completed on a full range of marine engines and other products.

This bill - H.R. 2652: Maritime Safety Act of 2009, sponsored by Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn. - is the first concrete step toward meeting the industry's request.

The act calls for a survey - not more than 180 days after the enactment of the act - of published data and reports pertaining to the use, safety and performance of blended fuels in marine engines. A comprehensive study would be conducted on the use, safety and performance of blended fuels in marine applications no later than three years following the act's adoption.

That study would include the impact of blended fuels on the operation, durability and performance of marine engines; the safety impact of blended fuels on consumers who own and operate marine engines; and fires and explosions on board vessels propelled by engines using blended fuels. Dunn noted that the bill does not specify what kind of ethanol blends would be examined, though the question today is whether the government should move forward with higher ethanol blends.

The act appropriates $1 million for the survey and study.

- Beth Rosenberg contributed to this story.

RELATED STORY: Ethanol and boats are a bad marriage