Since 2013, we have been hearing a lot about E10 fuel as a means of powering our cars and helping the environment. E10 fuel is already sold around the world, including in European countries like Germany, Finland, and France. It will eventually come to the UK as well.
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Do you know what E10 fuel is? More importantly, do you know why you should care? The introduction of E10 in the UK has been delayed numerous times because of some of the problems it poses. Using it is not a simple matter of cleaning a petrol tank and refilling it with the new fuel.
What is E10 fuel?
E10 fuel is commonly referred to as a 'green' or biofuel. It consists of 90% regular, unleaded petrol and 10% ethanol. For all intents and purposes, ethanol is a fuel made from ethyl alcohol – the same kind of alcohol in your favourite beer.
Petrol stations in the UK already sell a fuel mixture of 95% petrol and 5% ethanol. Modern engines can handle that lower amount of ethanol without any problems. The same is not true for E10 fuel. Fuel with a 10% ethanol content is a lot harder on engines. More on that later.
The attraction of E10 fuel is twofold. First, it is believed to burn cleaner than its straight petrol counterpart. Second, ethanol naturally absorbs carbon dioxide where burning petrol produces it. Proponents of E10 insist that including 10% ethanol in a fuel mix substantially offsets the pollution inherent to straight petrol fuels.
Why does it matter to me?
Now we move on to the question of why the introduction of E10 fuel should matter to you. In short, not all cars can use E10 efficiently and without damage to engine components. Despite the government mandating that all new cars sold in the UK from 2011 be E10 compatible, anything sold prior to 2011 may not be able to use the fuel.
Beyond the compatibility issues are additional problems associated with E10 fuel. For example, the RAC maintains that the corrosive tendency of ethanol can harm engines by damaging seals and any number of plastic and metal components.
Two additional problems with E10 are stability and efficiency. Where the former is concerned, E10 is a less stable fuel that does not combust as easily. This could mean harder starting and rougher engine performance, especially in cars that do not get driven daily.
Where efficiency is concerned, real world tests have demonstrated that E10 fuel is not as efficient as its pure petrol counterpart. This suggests that consumers would be buying fuel more often, burning it more quickly, and increasing pollution despite E10's ability to absorb carbon dioxide.
It appears as though E10 will come to the UK eventually. If you own a used car manufactured prior to 2011, it may mean having to replace it with something new. For all of us, it may mean less efficient fuel mileage and more frequent engine maintenance.
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