Ethanol in Modern Fuels

The addition of ethanol to modern fuels is now widespread across the globe. This is having a disastrous effect for many Classic motorbike, car and marine enthusiasts in part due to the use of fibreglass fuel tanks and also non ethanol resistant carb parts and other rubbers/plastics. Referred to as E5 (5% ethanol) or E10 (10% ethanol) etc. It is generally said in the fuel industry that 15% is the maximum percentage for use in non-modified vehicles.

In USA many states ethanol is a minimum of 5.9% by law, but some states use 10-15%. This is usually labelled at the pumps.

For Europe, from 1st April 2009 EU directives to decrease the proportion of automotive fuel derived from non-renewable resources were introduced. Many fuel retailers in the UK are selling up to 5% ethanol currently. A new 10% ethanol fuel will be on sale in 2011 which will apparently be labelled. Retailers do not currently label their standard unleaded with it’s ethanol content as it could be anything up to 5% depending on the source. It is no longer just supermarkets who add ethanol!

In Australia a legislation limits ethanol content to 10% but pumps must be labelled.

Effect on Fibreglass Tanks

The first signs to look for is the carburettors starting to gunge up with a sticky yellow substance. This is caused by the resin in the fibreglass starting to melt away into the petrol.

You may then start to see the fuel tank bubble and blister before eventually springing a leak.

Effect on Steel/Alloy Tanks

Steel tanks can corrode much faster due to the ethanol attracting moisture

Steel/Alloy tanks coated with old fashioned sealants will also be affected as the ethanol will eat away at the sealant and drag it through the carbs in the same way.

What should I do if my tank has been attacked by Ethanol?

The first thing to do is drain the fuel from the tank as soon as you can. We would then recommend thoroughly washing the tank out with hot soapy water (fairy liquid is best) and then dry with a hair dryer or similar.

Ethanol Resistant Fibreglass Tanks

Burton Bike Bits are currently developing a new range of ethanol resistant fibreglass tanks. We were initially looking at 15% resistant tanks but with the news that the level could well be increased in the USA and Europe has put a halt on this.

We recommend that all tanks, fibreglass, steel or alloy are sealed with an ethanol resistant sealer before use. This will help protect your tank at the current level, but also help to protect from any other changes in fuel content.

Orders now being taken! See fibreglass disclaimer

What Next?

The ethanol is added to help reduce the use of non-renewable resources, however if the reports are true of reduced efficiency coupled with increased maintenance even on modern vehicles surely this is the wrong way to go about it?

We have contacted the major Oil companies and fuel suppliers to ask their advice how we can combat ethanol levels. We will post replies on this page as we get them through.

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