Europe’s ethanol bosses – the main ones being the leaders of Tereos, Cristal Union, Alco Group, Crop Energies, and industry association ePURE – have a hard time putting a value on their assets. The ongoing battle to convince regulators that domestic crop based ethanol is climate friendly and free of adverse side effects is a roller coaster of highs and lows. It’s not for the faint-hearted investor.
But one single win for them could double the addressable market for them overnight, even with all the regulatory uncertainty. Europe currently blends only 5% ethanol in its gasoline on average, nearly all of it accounted for by E5. Ethanol volumes would double if all that E5 could become E10.
The trouble right now is that any European country that considers the shift to E10 gets bogged down in endless hand-wringing over how to deploy E10 while assuring enough E5 for “the one in twenty automobiles not cleared for E10”.
No need for parallel supply chains or technicalities
Sure, the simplistic response is use a two-pump system and educate the consumers. Easy! But of course it’s not easy because many countries don’t have universal multi-pump systems, gasoline retailers don’t want to give away their premium pricing channel to a technicality, and anti-ethanol voices put terror in the hearts of everyone with visions of tragic motorway pile-ups caused by E10 engine trouble.
But what if absolutely all cars on Europe’s roads today were able to run safely and efficiently on E10? There’d be no need for parallel supply chains and consumer education. The addressable market for ethanol would double instantly.
Well there’s excellent news, because absolutely all cars on Europe’s roads today run safely and efficiently on E10. There is no need for parallel supply chains or for consumers to learn new technicalities.
One can say this with utmost confidence this because there’s been an experiment going on for twenty years, with over 250 million cars of all makes, models, ages and technologies using E10 full-time. No opting out has been allowed and the driver population includes are some of the most litigious people on the planet. Not a single incident of E10 incompatibility has been recorded.
No amount of ifs and buts can refute this overwhelming result.
In Europe it all boils down to a widely-referenced 2010 documentby the association of the European motor industry ACEA, in which car makers list vehicle models that may or may not be “cleared” for E10.
The evidence shows that all old cars run perfectly fine on E10
Two thirds of car makers in the ACEA list indicate an old before date denoting when their cars become too old for comment, typically in the 1990s. These come to around 5% of Europe’s petrol cars. But BMW, Volkswagen, Hyundai and all American makers are among those that give the thumbs up for all their cars not matter how old. Why not Mercedes and all the others? As far back as 1979 the US makers announced that use of E10 would have no effect on their warranties.
Now, in 2019, and based on the American experiment Europeans can come to a very positive conclusion: Being old actually gives full peace-of-mind to drivers, including those with old Mercedes. There are no differences in materials or technologies between USA and European vehicles and that massive real world experience of E10 in North America amounts to a conclusive evidence that all old cars run perfectly fine on E10.
A third of car makers indicate a handful of engine types, typically 10-20 years old, which are expressly “not cleared” for E10, and these could amount to fifty or a hundred cars per EU region. There are no explanations given but it is understood that procedural rather than real technical limitations account for it. Technical incompatibility could only be due to gaskets made from polyurethane, a material which exhibits a degree incompatibility with E10 in the laboratory and which was used in some engines in the past. With fuel system gaskets only the tiniest part of the gasket surface comes into contact with fuel and no known issues have ever been encountered in real life, whether in engine bench tests or on the road.
But this technical detail is actually irrelevant. Because no matter what the technology or materials, they’ve all been extensively used in North America just as in Europe, and the same conclusion can be drawn as can be drawn about old cars: No car, with or without polyurethane gaskets, has ever been known to exhibit problems resulting from E10. Indeed when tests are done to investigate the effects of new fuels on old vehicles in the USA, E10 is used as the control fuel, i.e. the blend known for sure to be safe. E10 is also Europe’s official test fuel while the International Council on Clean Transportation treats E10 as the baseline safe blend for all petrol engines.
E10 compatibility incidents: German study finds none
Accompanying the real world experience of E10, a vast body of research work has emerged from the USA EPA, the Coordination Research Council of oil and auto producers, the Society of Automotive Engineers, the Kettering University Advanced Engine Research Laboratory and the U.S. Army confirming that vehicles operate on E10 without harm from an emissions standpoint, with no loss in performance and no impact on safety.
In 2012 Germany’s federal motoring organisation ADAC carried out a search for examples of E10 compatibility incidents and found none.
A similar process is now underway for E15 in the USA which has been approved in all cars made from 2001 onwards, regardless of what was written in car makers’ original warranties.
No one can blame ACEA or Fuels Europe (the oil association) for being conservative in their policy on fuel changes, so it’s up to society to make the judgement call and move forward. North America made that judgement call 20 years ago and continues year after year to make the same call, on the basis that there have been no detrimental effects from use of ethanol in transportation.
If you owned a chain of restaurants and people believed one in twenty of your guests would fall ill from eating the food then business would be a struggle and the share price would languish. You might consider doing something to correct the negative perception. Food for thought for E10 folk in Europe!