Bill to study effects of E15 moving along

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The proposed Maritime Safety Act of 2009 calls for a survey of the use and safety of blended fuels

The effects of ethanol on marine engines are well-documented, and there is a push to increase the level of the oxygenate in gasoline. However, a bill awaiting vote in the U.S. House of Representatives calls for a study of blended fuels in marine applications.

“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.”

Ethanol producers have asked the Environmental Protection Agency to raise the maximum amount of ethanol blended into gasoline from 10 percent to 15 percent, or E15 — a 50 percent increase. The proposal comes at a time when marine engine manufacturers, mechanics and boatyard crews are working hard to mitigate 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, among other problems.

The government set a 10 percent limit on ethanol about three decades ago. However, Growth Energy, a group representing the nation’s ethanol producers, has petitioned the EPA for a waiver to allow ethanol blends of up to 15 percent. The National Marine Manufacturers Association 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.

“We think this is a good study,” says Matthew Dunn, legislative director for the NMMA. “We think that, in general, there should be more studies, research and investigation into the impacts of midlevel ethanol and E10.”

The bill — H.R. 2652: Maritime Safety Act of 2009, sponsored by Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn. — is the first concrete step toward meeting that request. It calls for a survey, not more than 180 days after the enactment of the bill, 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 adoption of the Maritime Safety Act of 2009.

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 aboard vessels propelled by engines using blended fuels. Dunn notes 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.

This article originally appeared in the September 2009 issue.