What is E10 fuel and how could it affect you

Tuesday, August 28, 2018 - 08:50
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E10 fuel is being sold alongside regular unleaded and diesel at the pumps throughout Germany, France and Finland. But what exactly is E10 fuel and what do you need to know ahead of its likely launch in the UK?

It usually carries ‘green’ branding, as it is a biofuel, and there has been much talk of it being rolled out in the UK, with the government under pressure to meet emissions targets which call for 10% of transport energy to stem from renewable sources by the year 2020.

However, the pros and cons of using this new fuel as a genuine answer to increasing emission issues has not been widely publicised.

ePure – the European renewable ethanol association – claims E10’s share of the market in Germany has increased continuously, reaching 17% of petrol sales, while in France and Finland it stands at 32% and 63% respectively.

But what do motorists need to know? Here, we elaborate on all the relevant talking points, keeping you wholey informed of the issues that may affect your daily driving.

What is E10 fuel?

In short, E10 is a biofuel made up of 90% regular unleaded and 10% ethanol – hence the E10 name. Unlike regular unleaded petrol, ethanol absorbs carbon dioxide, partially offsetting greenhouse gas emissions.

Standard unleaded fuel contains up to 5% ethanol and can be used in any petrol-engined car without problems or the need for modification. With E10, things aren’t quite so simple, which is why its roll-out in the UK has been delayed.

What is ethanol?

Ethanol is an alcohol-based fuel produced from the fermentation of a range of plants, including sugarcane and grains, along with their by-products.

Can it be used in all cars?

In short, no. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) estimates that 92.2% of the petrol-engined vehicles in the UK are compatible with E10, but the remainder are not. As of 2011, all new cars sold in the UK must be E10 compatible.

As a rule, drivers of cars registered prior to 2002 are advised not to use E10 in their vehicle, as problems have been reported. The RAC’s technical director, David Bizley, said possible damage can be “caused by bioethanol’s corrosive properties which can lead to damaged seals, plastics and metals.

“There have also been reports that E10 is a less stable fuel and that this can make it more difficult to start a vehicle that has not been driven for an extended period.”

Drivers are advised to contact car manufacturers with any questions surrounding their specific vehicle. For example, Vauxhall says “E10 fuel can be used in all petrol-engine Vauxhall vehicles except models with the 2.2-litre direct-injection petrol engine (code Z22YH) used in Vectra, Signum and Zafira.”

So, E10 isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?

This depends on who you speak to. Environmental groups will point to carbon-offsetting properties, while the government will be keen to introduce E10 as a step towards meeting its emissions targets.

But research carried out by What Car? revealed that E10 is potentially less efficient than the current E5 blend of fuel, with the problem exacerbated in smaller-engined cars.

If true, this would lead to drivers filling up more often, increasing the cost of their annual fuel bill.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) claims the energy content of ethanol is about 33% less than pure unleaded and that “the impact of fuel ethanol on vehicle fuel economy varies depending on the amount of denaturant that is added to the ethanol.

The EIA states: “The energy content of denaturant is about equal to the energy content of pure gasoline (petrol). In general, vehicle fuel economy may decrease by about 3% when using E10”.

Has E10 been well received in Europe?

Not exactly. The Treehugger website reports that the German government discussed the introduction of E10 in 2008, but dropped the idea, mainly because around 3 million vehicles could not use the fuel.

E10 was finally rolled out in Germany in 2011, but led to a so-called ‘E10 boykott’ as drivers resisted the change. Some motorists were concerned about potential damage and invalidated warranties, while others protested about the way it was introduced.

What are the benefits of E10?

Unsurprisingly, environmental campaign groups are undeterred. Robin Wright, secretary general of ePURE, said: “Displacing 10% of Europe’s petrol with ethanol through E10 fuel, a fuel widely available in France, Finland and Germany, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from petrol vehicles by over 6%.

“But more ambition and greater use of ethanol is needed. Brazil currently mixes its petrol with up to 28% ethanol, so why not Europe?”

Finland is leading the way in Europe. E10 fuel has increased its share of petrol sold each year since it was introduced at the beginning of 2011, with the Finnish Petroleum and Biofuels Association reporting a 63% share in 2015.

In the recent budget announcement, Juha Sipilä, the Prime Minister of Finland, had bad news for E10 motorists, proposing a 2.5 cents rise in a litre of 95 E10 petrol.

When will it be introduced in the UK?

The UK is currently in a state of flux – a real ‘chicken and egg’ situation. Retailers and suppliers are waiting for the government to demand the introduction of E10, while for its part, the government is waiting for the fuel industry to roll it out.

Given what happened in Germany, it’s highly unlikely that the retailers and suppliers will pick up the baton and run with it, so drivers might remain in the dark. Our view is that E10 is most likely to arrive at some point in 2017.

The industry is already gearing up. Vivergop – the UK’s largest producer of bioethanol – has appointed Richard Royal as its head of government affairs, who will spearhead the company’s call for the coordinated rollout of E10 petrol.

On its company website, Vivergop claims if all petrol cars in the EU ran on E10, it would be the equivalent of taking 9 million cars off Europe’s roads for one year.

While we wait for the arrival of E10 petrol in the UK, drivers are advised to take care when filling up with fuel in France, Germany or Finland. Although the pumps are clearly labelled, it’s important to double-check before filling up.

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