As you’ll no doubt have heard, E10 fuel is finally about to arrive after years of trailing this change. Current government plans mean that, from September 2021, the standard petrol on sale will be E10. This means petrol which contains 10% ethanol, as opposed to the standard now which is E5 (5% ethanol). The reason given for the change is environmental. Ethanol is an alcohol considered greener as a fuel because it comes from crops such as grain and sugarbeet, therefore it removes carbon whilst it grows and is therefore carbon neutral. It does reduce the fuel economy of vehicles though so slightly more petrol is needed. On the plus side for environmental issues, it is reckoned it will be the equivalent of taking 350,000 vehicles off the road. Whatever the arguments, it’s coming.
So what’s the problem? Well, several unfortunately for the 600,000 vehicles which won’t like E10 fuel (including classic bikes of course!). One or two tankfuls might cause nothing more than pinking and maybe rough running but continued use will cause problems, and not just with how the engine runs. Firstly, ethanol is hygroscopic (it absorbs water from the air). This will condense and corrode the metals in fuel tanks, fuel lines and carbs. Secondly. it is also a powerful solvent so it will eat through rubber, plastic and fibreglass meaning hoses and seals will perish more quickly.
What Can Be Done?
Well, as Corporal Jones would have said ‘Don’t panic’. When E10 is introduced in September, E5 will live on as super unleaded until at least 2026. Most classic vehicle owners will simply change the vulnerable parts. This would mean rubber fuel lines, fibreglass petrol tanks, soldered joints and soldered floats in carbs. To avoid the effects of water absorption whilst the bike is stored, you can either drain the fuel altogether or keep the tank full which stops the ethanol absorbing water from the air in the tank. Here at Somerset Classic Motorcycles we’ll be happy to advise our own customers on what they need to do for those who’d like some guidance.
For those who want to keep their bikes as they are, there are petrol additives and stabilisers which should neutralise the effects of the increased ethanol. There are several to choose from and Classic Valvemaster Plus works out at about 6p per litre whereas the (perhaps) more comprehensive protection of Millers EPS Ethanol Protection Fuel Treatment is about 14p per litre.We will keep stocks of these when it becomes appropriate for customers to need it. In the meantime, super unleaded will do the trick. In the longer term, another possibility is electrofuels.
Electrofuels (Known as E-Fuels)
This is a new technology which is being explored right now. Basically, e-fuels are synthetic fuels which can be used to power internal combustion engines in the usual way but are carbon neutral. This is achieved because the fuel is made from hydrogen (produced using renewable energy) which is mixed with carbon dioxide (say from an industrial exhaust gas) to form a hydrocarbon. They don’t compete with biofuels for land and they can used in classic vehicles without modification. Hooray, that’s that solved then! Maybe not quite. It is expensive to make e-fuels. Even so, the German Energy Agency thinks that, by 2050 (so not anytime soon) 70% of energy needs in transport such as air, sea and road might be e-fuels.
Motorsport often drives technology and Porsche are considering a move into Formula One if e-fuels are adopted in 2025. They would then use the technology for a roadgoing hypercar. Along with Siemens and the German government the hurdles to making this a reality are being explored and Bill Gates is partially funding carbon engineering in Canada.
Meanwhile keep calm and carry on riding! And buy one of our lovely classic bikes knowing you can enjoy it for a long as you like