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THE BASICS FOR ETHANOL (E10) FUEL USERS

 
Background:

The founder of USA Fuel Service, along with 1000’s of other racing enthusiast has been using ethanol and or methanol fuels for many decades. We use it in pure form and in various blends with gasoline, diesel, benzene, nitro methane and naphtha to boost horsepower in gas and diesel powered racing engines. Some custom blends along with engine modifications are capable of doubling or tripling horsepower.  (We refer to it as “Horsepower In a Can”) However that type of custom blending should only be used for racing and custom blending only done by seasoned pros. It is not recommended for street use because it is a very dangerous health hazard and it can also totally destroy an engine in only a few seconds.

The point is ethanol blended fuels are not a mysterious new practice without a history.  This article is based on more than 30 years of field experience using blended fuels including ethanol and methanol.
 

What is Ethanol?

It is a member of the alcohol family and is one of the alternative fuels for use in diesel and gasoline. Anhydrous ethanol (meaning without water) usually has a water content of ½ percent or less and is currently the only ethanol that can be safely blended with gasoline.

Hydrated ethanol (up to 4% water) will not safely blend with high concentrations of gasoline but can be used in pure forms as a substitute for gasoline.

Ethanol is a renewable fuel that can be made from a wide variety of crops including sugarcane, corn, sugar beets, Etc.  However one of the highest yields is from sugarcane. It can also be made from coal, natural gas and other petroleum products but that defeats the intent of decreasing foreign oil dependency and air pollution.

Ethanol can also be made from just about any organic waste product including wood shavings, sawdust, weeds, grasses and most landfill waste. The university of Florida recently received a patent for that new method. The really good news is the new process yields a much higher energy return that rivals or exceeds fuels derived from crude oils. Florida will soon be a major ethanol producer and is expected to begin with ethanol produced from citrus peels.

Recently there have been even more advances made with producing Ethanol from Algae.  The reported big advantages associated with this technology is it grows so fast it can be harvested daily. Further it produces a higher positive energy return that rivals gasoline made from crude oil. Meaning it produces more energy than it takes to make it. (About 10-15 to 1) In addition Algae eats the co2 that has been polluting our planet  so the process will help offset global warming. This process could make Ethanol production from corn obsolete and therefore reverse the higher food prices resulting from corn based Ethanol. Keep a close eye on the news for major announcements about this in the near future.
 

Why are we beginning to use more ethanol?

The U.S. government has legislated the use of a certain amount of renewable fuels to reduce foreign oil dependency and air pollution. Further, developing countries including China and India are increasing energy demand so fast that it will take all the energy we can produce from all sources to meet future needs.

Another factor is refiners have been using methyl t-butyl ether (MTBE) as an oxygenating (cleaner burning) fuel additive for our gasoline(s). But it has been cited as carcinogenic (cancer causer) as well as a long-term groundwater pollutant.  More than 20 states have already banned its use so refiners are phasing it out. Fuel depots are now blending Ethanol with gasoline and diesel as a substitute for MTBE.

While Ethanol is a great replacement for MTBE it present some new and different problems when compared to pure fuels. But the positives are viewed as far outweighing the negatives. The blended fuel (E-10) is currently widely available in more than 20-states and limited quantities are available in an additional 15-states. The demand far exceeds current refinery capability. The U.S. currently has more than 90 small refineries in operation and more than 60 new refineries are under construction.
 

What engines can safely use blended fuels?

Ethanol blends of up to 10% (E10) can be used in any gasoline engine without modification. However we racers blended E10 for our tow vehicles back in the 70’s & 80’s and found that extended use caused some rubber and plastic hoses and carburetor gaskets to swell, dry and crack or dissolve especially if they were already a bit old or worn.

Hoses, gaskets, seals and components installed in or on vehicles including autos, boats and motorcycles manufactured after 1996 are usually compatible with 10% concentrations of ethanol/methanol. However if you decide to replace your hoses and want the very best available, ask for hoses made with "Viton" or "Teflon". They may not be available from your local stock parts store but high performance/speed shops will likely have them.

If your fuel blend is over 10% (E20, E30, E50, Etc.) it cannot be safely used unless your vehicle has a flexi-fuel engine or you modify your fuel system accordingly. (Flexi-fuels are usually 20% Ethanol or higher) The reason for this is your engine requires a higher volume of ethanol fuels as compared to pure gasoline. Yes, that translates into a slight decrease in fuel mileage.

After each race we blended our left over racing ethanol/methanol with gasoline and used it in our tow vehicles on the drive home. We found that a 10% blend decrease our mileage by 15-20 percent. However E-10 is a high test fuel with well over 100 octane so we increased the ignition timing and produced 5-10% more horsepower. (Great for towing in mountain areas)
 

Ethanol fuel handling and storage:

This was a real eye-opener for us. Trial and error revealed we had to do two things very differently when using ethanol/methanol fuels as compared to pure gasoline.

First, it will quickly absorb any available free-water from the bottom of a tank and even absorbs moisture (humidity) right out of the air in a very short period. (Called a wicking action) That can have an immediate effect (1-5 days) and result in a loss of 5-15 octane points evidenced by valve pinging. If not treated it will soon lead to fuel separation. (Stratifying) The water/ethanol-sludge then settles to the bottom of the tank and forms a milky mucous looking slime. To combat the problem we began mixing our fuels at the last moment before use and stored them in 99% airtight containers. (Some venting is absolutely necessary)

Second, we found ethanol and methanol has a very high detergent action (cleaning) that is many times more powerful than pure gasoline. Therefore it quickly removes varnish, scale and oxides from the walls and bottom of tanks. It accumulates in the fuel system in the form of slime and crud that starts clogging fuel filters, carburetors and injectors. Removing and cleaning our tanks helped, but occasionally we still experienced clogged filters and fuel pump failures. The problem continued to occasionally strand us on the roadside. We finally realized the problem was also caused by slightly contaminated gasoline purchased from stations while in route to races. That fuel usually would not immediately affect our filters.  However when we blended ethanol/methanol it would quickly condense the contaminates (water & solids) into scum and slime that began clogging our filters again.

One more thing, we also found that ethanol will loosen small fragments and soften the inside layer of polyester fiberglass tanks. Our latest tests indicates a chemical reaction with epoxy resins that also produces a gummy contaminate. (Slower to appear but can totally clog and damage injectors)

USA Fuel Service recommends replacing all fiberglass tanks before using or storing ethanol fuels. Even metal or plastic tanks more than 1-year old should be cleaned to remove scale, varnish and oxides. If you don’t ethanol fuels will do it for you and clog filters and cause fuel pump and/or engine failure.  Ethanol fuel users storing fuel more than 90 days should expect to have the tank and fuel cleaned at least annually. (Boats, RV’s, emergency generators, Etc)  Ethanol fuels will absorb a significant amount of water right out of the air if stored 60 days or longer.
 

Ethanol fuel filtration facts & secrets: 

Fuels are typically stored in many different tanks and take 30 to 90 days to get from a refinery to you. If any of those tanks has water or other contamination (and most do) some of it will likely make its way into your tank. An ongoing effort is required to prevent recurring fuel contamination problems that lead to fuel pump and engine failures. Those facts made us realize we couldn't stop it altogether so we devised effective ways to deal with it.

The bottom line is no matter what you do you will experience an increased amount of fuel contamination with the new reformulated fuels (Gas & diesel) and an even higher level when switching to ethanol fuels. (E10 & E-diesel))

To help control the problems associated with ethanol fuels we started thinking outside of the box and came up with a really good solution that restored reliability and kept our tow vehicles running. It is really very simple. We experienced 3-5 times the amount of contaminates with ethanol as opposed to pure gasoline so we decided to try increasing the size of our filter(s) accordingly. Well guess what, it worked, no more roadside breakdowns.

Proper fuel filter size is primarily determined by using two specifications. First, and most important is it must flow a minimum fuel volume as specified by the engine manufacturer. Second, it must filter and trap contaminates that can potentially clog carburetors and/or injectors. Third, it must perform effectively for a reasonable time interval between element changes. (Typically the finer the mesh/micron the shorter the time interval)

Prior to 2003 most over-the-counter fuel and oil filters were designed to trap 20-40 micron particles. (A human hair is about 50-70 microns) That worked well until engine producers started equipping newer engines with ultra-high pressure fuel injectors with superfine nozzles that burn cleaner, increase horsepower, and mileage.

But, the downside is superfine injector nozzles clog quicker and easier. The new hi-tech nozzles also rely on continuous fuel flow for cooling and lubrication. If they are suddenly starved for fuel the consequences can be immediate and cost hundreds. Some engine producers require owners to use finer filters (10-20 micron) or risk a voided warranty. As a further safeguard many engines are now fitted with a second 2-micron filter on the engine itself.  

Another factor to consider before installing a larger fuel filter is today’s boats and autos tend to have smaller and more compact engine compartments. In an effort to accommodate the smaller spaces OEM fuel filter manufacturing companies have been designing smaller filters with higher fuel flow ratings.

USA Fuel Service has found the best method to deal with fuel contamination problems caused by converting to blended (E-10) fuels is to process your fuel, clean your tanks and upgrade and/or add larger filters to increase the overall available filtering area by a factor of 3-6. Our approach will allow you to step up to a finer mesh/micron (we recommend 10-micron) element that will deliver purer fuel while greatly reducing the potential for premature filter clogging. (Engine stoppage)

The USA Fuel Service approach has worked 100% of the time for every one of our E-10 clients. We purify fuels by adding a blend of proprietary tank cleaning additives and circulating the fuel through high volume fuel filtering machines that we built in-house. We also add our water-absorbing fuel stabilizer to your fuel to prevent future water buildup in the tank. Once that is complete we evaluate your entire fuel system(s) and make appropriate recommendations to increase engine reliability and extend intervals between filter element changes. We have a long proven track record and many testimonials that confirm our successes.  (See our testimonials page)

 

The future of fuels:

USA Fuel Service constantly monitors changes in the fuel industry. It seems all we hear about is the gloom and doom of how we will soon run out of oil and energy. The fact is we have enough shale oil in the U.S. alone to supply our country for 60-100 years. However we have not devoted the resources to develop the technology to extract and process it. We are also on the verge of major new technology breakthroughs in solar energy, hydrogen, wind, magnetic power and more. You will see more new energy technology advances in the next 24-36 months than in the last twenty years. Cheer up it will be a bit painful in the near future but our energy problems will be solved.

 

 USA Fuel Service fuel tips:

(The #1 cause of breakdowns is fuel problems)

 

(1)   Always keep fuel tanks full to avoid sweating.  (Water) Keep them either totally empty or 90-95% full. (Diesel & Gasoline)

(2)   Always use a premium grade fuel stabilizer additive. (USA Fuel Service has industrial strength additives that stabilize fuels, absorbs water, increases fuel economy and cleans your tank)  "GAS-SHOK"TM  for gasoline and "DESL-SHOK"TM  for diesel.

(3)   Keep your tanks clean and change your filter(s) (At least annually)

(4)   Always keep extra filters on hand.

(5)   Have long-term stored fuels lab-tested at least annually. (Spring and Fall is best)

(6)   Never buy fuel immediately after a fuel truck delivery. (They stir up sediment from the bottom)

(7)   In flooded or stormy conditions delay fueling until after conditions have improved and avoid being first in line.

(8)   Ethanol (E10) users should be aware that water will be absorbed through fuel tank vents and fuel purifying may be needed for boats 2 or more years old that have been stored for 60-days or more without the use of a fuel stabilizing additive.

      Never leave fuel tank(s) partially full during extended storage intervals. (between 10-80%) that is when they will sweat the most and or produce the most moisture. 

 

Article by Tim Dutcher, USA Fuel Service
www.usafuelservice.com  

© All rights reserved, Tim Dutcher, 2006.