Essential Ethanol: Why E10 Blended Fuels Can Spell Trouble

April 25th, 2012 by Jason Giacchino

 
 
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If My ATV Drank Alcohol, It Would Probably Be Down At The Bar


We all know the situation: In effort to cut down on our collective dependency upon fossil fuels, the government is encouraging development of alternative sources; one of which happens to be the corn-based alcohol, ethanol (ethyl alcohol).

Ethanol has been steadily being incorporated into the gasoline we buy from pumps all around the nation throughout the past few years. This would be fine except for one little snag- Ethanol (E10) consumption in an engine is approximately 51% higher than that of gasoline (since the energy per unit volume of ethanol is 34% lower than pure gasoline). In other words, we’re getting a lot fewer miles per gallon in our cars burning gas/ ethanol blends and much bigger issues in our ATVs.

ATVs, UTVs and other small engines (mowers, saws, snow blowers etc.) are particularly sensitive to the effects of ethanol for several reasons- the first of which lies in the fact that ethyl alcohol has the damaging habit of drawing in and collecting water from the very atmosphere itself; a principle reason it is unable to be shipped through pipelines like gasoline.

This means that gas/ ethyl blends become less and less efficient the longer they are stored. Whether in your gas can or the tank of the ATV itself, every moment blend fuel sits, it becomes more and more water-diluted.

If that weren’t bad enough, ethanol blends tend to separate naturally. In other words the gasoline components and the alcohol do their best “water & oil” impression in your quad’s tank. If caught while still in your gas can, some vigorous shaking may be enough to get the blend remixed before use. However, if this separation happens within your ATV’s fuel tank or worse still, in the carburetor, you could face major headaches, as ATVs are not designed to run on concentrated alcohol alone.

Finally, and perhaps the biggest risk, comes in the form of alcohol’s tendency to dissolve rubbers, plastics and polymers. In the event that you’ve never followed the fuel path of your ATV, let us assure you that it is a voyage primarily through precisely such materials from start to finish (plastic fuel tank, rubber fuel lines, rubber-sealed carburetor and so on).

In addition to being hard on your seals, these dissolved materials end up being deposited in your engine’s extremely precise internals. The bottom line is that while ethanol may indeed cut down on our collective reliance upon fossil fuels, it can wreak havoc on our small engines!


Fortunately all hope isn’t lost- especially considering gas stations are typically mandated to carry E10 blends with only a sticker on the pump disclaiming something to the effect, “Contains Less Than 10% Ethanol”. Unlike the transition of leaded to unleaded gasoline back in the 1980s, there are no non-ethanol pumps dedicated to filling one’s gas can (though that would be nice).

Additives exist to neutralize all of the ethanol’s negative effects on small engines. How they work typically is by combining a glycerol or isopropyl to absorb any water that may have gathered in your fuel with lubricants that coat the sensitive rubber and plastic pieces encountered along the way. Finally detergents included wash away any dissolved residue that may have already accumulated within the engine.


These fuel treatments typically vary in cost from $4 – $10 per bottle and operate on an average of one ounce of treatment per couple of gallons of gasoline (follow the specific mixing ratios on the bottle of the treatment you select), making them a very worthy investment.

 
 
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