Harvesting Corn & Stover


  Fuel Pumps in Field

Earlier this spring, the ethanol industry petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to approve the use of up to 15% ethanol blends (E15).  This is not a request to mandate E15, but rather to give gasoline marketers the flexibility to blend up to that level.

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) is in support of E15 blends and believes that the science is there to support the approval of the waiver request.  However, the RFA has recognized some of the concerns voiced by the marine and boating community.  As such, in its comments to the EPA, the RFA outlined possibilities to allow for the use of E15 for on road applications, like passenger vehicles, while keeping 10% blends available at marinas and other fuel outlets. 


The first flex-fuel vehicle (FFV) was designed by the automotive godfather himself, Henry Ford when he released the 1908 Model T. Although this automobile is a far cry from the sophisticated vehicles we drive today, it was designed to operate on pure ethanol.

Across the country, vehicle manufacturers currently offer FFVs that are capable of operating on 100% gasoline, E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline) or any mixture of the two, such as mid-level ethanol fuel blends. To date, there are more than eight million FFVs operating on America’s roadways. With hopes to increase these numbers, some of the major automobile manufacturers in the U.S., including Ford, Chrysler and General Motors, have made a commitment to produce 50% of their current models with the flex-fuel option. Demand from consumers for FFVs continues to grow as they want a choice in their fuel and to support domestically grown transportation fuels.
There are a number of ways to determine if your vehicle is an FFV. The inside of the fuel door will typically have a sticker noting E85 compatibility.  Some vehicles also have a yellow gas cap signifying the option to fuel up with E85. Flex-fuel compatibility is also marked in the owner’s manual as well as encoded in the vehicle’s identification number (VIN).


Ethanol and Water Do Mix

America’s drive to become more reliant on domestic sources of energy has led to a rapid expansion of ethanol-blended fuels.  Today, ethanol can be found in nearly all of the nation’s gasoline and is being utilized in all engine types, including marine engines.  In some parts of the US, such as the Midwestern states, all gasoline, across all octane grades is blended with ethanol.  However, there have been exceptions made to allow for gasoline fuel only for marine and other special applications.  There are oil companies offering a “recreational grade” fuel for marine and other non-road applications.

As is the case with any national fuel change, questions and misinformation abound.  This change in fuel may have caught some boaters off guard.  But avid water sports enthusiasts need not fear ethanol blends.  As is always the case with a fuel change, there are some basic maintenance strategies that can be employed to mitigate any possible fuel-related issues. Typically, the maintenance issues encountered by the marine engine community arise from residual fuel deposits being cleaned up by the ethanol portion or, as is the most prevalent case, improper fuel storage and handling conditions that have allowed the uptake of water during storage. 

Proper maintenance, vigilance over the performance of the engine, planning, and communication with marina operators can help to mitigate any impacts boaters may encounter with the switch to ethanol blended fuel. 

It is true that in rare instances, some vintage boats have experienced problems with ethanol-blended fuels resulting in catastrophic damage.  These instances have almost exclusively involved older, two-stroke outboard engines that utilize fiberglass fuel tanks in boat models older than 1981.  Gasoline blended with ethanol should be avoided if your boat features this criteria.  One way to avoid this issue is to know your equipment, read your operators manual, and talk with your marina about the fuels they offer.  There is a wealth of information available to you as a boat owner on the Internet.

Ethanol and water sports can mix, as boaters and fishermen in Minnesota, "The Land of 10,000 Lakes" have proven for more than two decades.  Communication, knowledge, and a dose of common sense will lead to a resolution to this debate on which all parties can agree. 

1 Source:  Renewable Fuels Association