Auto additive manufacturer dispels ethanol myths

By Kris Bevill | September 20, 2011

Gold Eagle Co., producer and distributor of automobile aftermarket fluids and additives including HEET Gas-Line Antifreeze and various fuel stabilizers and leak sealants, has released a 48-page white paper  outlining the petroleum refining process, gasoline standards and the effects of ethanol-blended gasoline on engine components. Mike Profetto, vice president of product engineering at Gold Eagle and author of the paper, said the paper was developed with the intent of providing information related to the complexity of gasoline and to dispel some of the myths associated with ethanol use in vehicles.

“Through our conversations with our retail customers and consumers, we believe there is a need to educate the general public on the gasoline refinery process because there is much misinformation, particularly when it comes to ethanol-blended gasoline,” he said. “This white paper was driven by consumer questions received on our 800-number, where these customers would ask in-depth questions in their attempt to understand the industry and perceived problems.”

In the paper, Profetto points out that “there is no such thing as pure gasoline,” and writes that ethanol is perhaps one of the most often misunderstood fuel components in gasoline. He offers a brief history of ethanol use in the U.S. and addresses technical issues related to ethanol blends including vapor pressure and materials compatibility. According to Profetto, the high vapor pressures in many fuels used in the 1980s are at least partially to blame for ethanol’s negative image. “In the mid-1980s, the vapor pressure of much of the gasoline was in excess of what automobile fuel systems were designed to handle during hot weather,” Profetto said in the paper. “This led to a rash of hot driveability/hot restart problems. It was during this timeframe that ethanol began to see more widespread use and therefore these problems were often attributed to ethanol.” The U.S. EPA now regulates the vapor pressure of all gasoline during summer months, which has largely eliminated hot driveability issues, Profetto said, and yet the ethanol industry continues to be confronted with misinformation stemming from those early years of ethanol-blended fuel use.

Likewise, all auto manufacturers now warrant the use of E10 in their vehicles and have upgraded their fuel systems to handle any potential swelling or corrosion issues related to ethanol use. However, Profetto writes that pre-1975 vehicles may still have fuel system components that are sensitive not only to ethanol but also to high aromatic gasolines. Additionally, fuel systems in 1975-1980 model year vehicles were upgraded, but not to the extent as later model years. He recommended that auto technicians specify that replacement parts for pre-1980 vehicles be resistant to newer fuel components.

Some auto technicians continue to blame ethanol for all fuel system component issues because they may not be familiar with the multitude of fuel quality changes in recent years, Profetto said. “During the period of time that ethanol has grown in use, there have been a number of other compositional changes in gasoline,” he said. “However, many of those changes have not been brought to the attention of the technician. This results in a perception that the major difference in today’s gasoline is ethanol content when, in fact, many other changes have also taken place.”

The ethanol industry has undertaken various educational efforts, but has had difficulty in achieving widespread success with its informational campaigns. Gold Eagle is a member of the Renewable Fuels Association and Profetto said he believes the group’s educational message is on target. However, he recommends that the industry should be proactive in creating alliances with the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who are addressing issues related to ethanol. “These alliances would focus on information and research jointly developed to document that ethanol does not pose any issues with their products,” he said, adding that the issue of ethanol education is extremely complex and includes political motivations, OEM warranties, competitive concerns and public distrust of federal government.